You can’t blame the Barrie Colts for wanting to put January in their rearview mirror. After struggling to a 4-8 record and losing their lead atop the Central Division standings, the Colts came into February determined to get things turned around.
Nothing like a new month and a little inspiration from the head coach to do exactly that.
The Colts kicked off February with an 8-4 road win over the London Knights on Feb. 2 and followed that up the next night with a 6-2 victory over the Windsor Spitfires back at the Barrie Molson Centre. With just 20 games remaining in the 68-game OHL schedule and the stretch drive straight ahead, head coach Dale Hawerchuk sat his team down before the weekend games and reminded them more was needed.
“Dale came in the room before the weekend started and he said we got to turn things around the last 20 games of the season,” Colts forward Jaden Peca recalled of the talk. “We’re just trying here to make a push for the last 20 games of the season and it’s a great start with this weekend so far.”
January was a rough month for the Colts in a few ways. Hawerchuk says the club had to battle through various illnesses that hit numerous players hard.
“The flu, strep throat and everything that has gone through us the last three weeks has taken its toll on these guys at different times, but certain guys are stepping up at times so that’s good,” he said, as the Colts moved two points up on the Niagara IceDogs atop the Central. “I thought our battle levels in all areas was strong and we got some big penalty kills the last two nights. Five-on-threes and four-on-threes. Those are momentum changers.”
Barrie’s big guns have certainly stepped up, with Andrei Svechnikov (10-6-16), Aaron Luchuk (5-11-16) and Dmitry Sokolov (8-9-17) each running their scoring streaks to eight games now.
Svechnikov has been scorching of late. His third hat-trick of the season on Feb. 3 gives him 27 goals in just 29 games, tops among all rookies. The top NHL prospect has found the back of the net in seven of his last eight games and has recorded multiple points in eight straight.
“I wanted to use him a lot (Saturday),” said Hawerchuk, whose club faces the East Conference-leading Hamilton Bulldogs on Feb. 8. “(Svechnikov) felt like he had it going there. They had some young (defencemen) and he’s a tough guy to handle for them. He wears you down and he just keeps coming. That line is strong and he’s really played well recently.”
The Colts had their hands full Feb. 3 with Spitfires goaltender Michael DiPietro. Arguably the OHL’s top goaltender, the Vancouver Canucks prospect kept a young Windsor team in the game, making several outstanding stops to keep the Barrie lead at 3-2 before the Colts blew it open late in the third period.
“DiPietro’s such a great goalie,” Peca said. “Probably one of the best goalies in the league and we kept on him. We kept putting shots through, getting traffic in front. We buried our chances and he just couldn’t keep up with us.”
Facing his former team for the first time since the mid-December trade that brought him over from Windsor for forward Curtis Douglas, Luchuk scored the game winner and finished the emotional contest with a goal and three assists.
“I think it was important,” Hawerchuk said of the former Windsor captain. “The guys wanted to get a win for him. He’s such a good leader and he spent a lot of time there in Windsor and won a Memorial Cup. He’s a Colt now, but he spent a lot of time as a Spitfire.”
Peca spent a lot of his rookie season on a line with Douglas and while he felt for his former teammate, he was happy to get Luchuk a win. Douglas scored his 16th goal in the loss.
“Losing a player that you played with your rookie year and being so close to him, it’s tough seeing him lose,” Peca explained. “But I’m happy to get Luchuk on board and very proud for him to have success tonight against his old team.”
ICE CHIPS: The Feb. 8 game in Hamilton is one of the OHL’s school day games and starts at 10:30 a.m. Barrie heads to Mississauga on Feb. 9 before wrapping up the weekend the next night at home against the Flint Firebirds. . . Joey Keane has two games remaining on his five-game suspension and is expected to return against Flint. . . Colts second-year centre Jason Willms turns 19 on Feb. 8.
Photo: The Barrie Colts kicked off February with wins over London and Windsor to move back on top of the OHL’s Central Division standings. Courtesy of Miranda Zilkowsky.