A third-period surge wasn’t enough to wipe out another poor start by the Barrie Colts.
The Flint Firebirds scored twice in the first nine minutes of the game and then survived a late Barrie rally to hang on for 4-3 win in OHL action, Feb. 9, at the Barrie Molson Centre.
Flint added two more goals in the second period to make it 4-0 and while the Colts would score three times and pressured late in the third to get the equalizer, it was too little, too late for Barrie.
It was a disappointing loss for a Colts team fighting to make the playoffs. The Firebirds, who sit last overall in the OHL, came into the night having lost six straight and fresh off a 9-2 pounding the night before on the road against the Sudbury Wolves.
On top of that, they were missing their best player and Dallas Stars top prospect Tye Dellandrea and Flint’s team bus broke down en route to Barrie, forcing the Firebirds to arrive some 40 minutes late.
It was also the second-straight game a bad start would cost the Colts. In a 4-2 loss to Owen Sound two nights earlier, the Colts gave up two goals in the first five minutes and never recovered.
Barrie gave up goals in the first minute in both losses.
“I don’t know what our starts are. We just had another talk about that,” said Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk, trying to make sense of back-to-back sluggish starts that clearly cost them in both losses. “Tonight’s a night where we think, ‘Well they’re in last place, it’s going to be point night. We’re going to overhandle it.’ We just had too many guys trying to do too much early on and we just turned the puck over.
“We talked about our turnovers at the blue line, how bad they were tonight. It was probably one of our worst nights. Finally in the third, they bought in and we got some momentum going.”
Ethan Keppen and Jake Durham had a goal and assist each, while Jack Wismer and Hunter Holmes also found the back of the net for the Firebirds (10-41-4-0), who have just two wins in their last 10 games.
Jason Willms, Ryan Suzuki, with goals on the power play, and Peter Fleming scored for the Colts (21-27-2-1), who remain seven points behind the North Bay Battalion for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Flint dominated the first, outshooting Barrie, 15-7. While the home team would fire 19 shots at Flint goaltender Emanuel Vella in the second, most of them were from the outside and with little or no traffic in front.
Flint, which has given a league-leading 292 goals this season, kept Barrie off the board through 40 minutes.
“Our offensive pressure was short lived, because guys were overhandling pucks,” Hawerchuk said. “Then they turn it over and now you got to back check. There’s little things in this game that give you a chance for success, one (is) not turning pucks over. Being strong at the blue lines for sure, and just making good little plays.
“If you got nothing, then you put it behind the net or down in the corner and let you teammate work on it. Now you can come over-top of me, which is part of it as well. We’re trying to make plays through the middle and through people and now we got to back check.”
The Colts will look to salvage something out of the weekend when they hit the road tonight to face the Oshawa Generals.
No easy task. The Generals have won all three contests between the two teams, outscoring Barrie, 11-2.
“They’re all tough (games). We just proved it tonight,” Hawerchuk said. “There’s no walkovers, so you got to be ready every night and you got to be ready at the start of the game.”
Puck drop at Tribute Communities Centre is 6:05 p.m.
photo: Rookie forward Peter Fleming cut the lead to one, but it was as close as the Barrie Colts would come in a 4-3 loss to the Flint Firebirds, Feb. 9, at the Barrie Molson Centre. Terry Wilson/OHL Images