Tyler Tucker couldn’t hide the look of disappointment as he stood outside the dressing room at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga.
A late third-period collapse resulted in Tucker and the Barrie Colts letting a 4-1 lead slip away as they closed out their disappointing 2018-19 OHL season with a 5-4 loss, Mar. 17, to the Mississauga Steelheads.
The loss was a sixth-straight for a Colts team that will miss the playoffs for only the third time in franchise history.
A rough ending to what has been a tough season.
“For sure, obviously we weren’t able to make the playoffs,” Tucker said softly. “I feel like it was a good learning experience for the younger guys and we’ll come back stronger next year and, hopefully, make the playoffs.”
The Colts looked to the future back at the OHL trade deadline in early January, dealing away three veterans. The job to earn a playoff spot got that much tougher shortly after when they lost both Matej Pekar and Jacob Tortora, two of their top scorers, to what turned out to be season-ending injuries.
Barrie pushed for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference right to the final week of the season and got to within three points of the North Bay Battalion, but the young club lost a big game in North Bay that all but ended its playoff hopes.
“It was tough,” Tucker said of coming up short. “Obviously losing those guys, they are big pieces of our lineup. It sucks, but we were there. We had our chances and we couldn’t come through. Next year has got to be a better year for us.”
Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk hopes his young squad can learn from this.
“It’s hard going through this,” he admitted. “I’ve gone through this a couple of times and there is light at the end of the tunnel. These guys will come back with a year more experience and with a good hardworking summer they’ll be that much better.
“They’re growing too. They’ll be physically stronger and starting to understand sometimes you understand winning more when you’ve lost. You can be winning all the time and you never understand, and when you do lose what transpires, so we need to flip that.”
The Colts will have a good core of their lineup returning next season, with 21 players eligible to come back. With the fourth overall pick, the Colts will get one of the top prospects in this year’s OHL Priority Selection as well a high CHL Import Draft pick.
“Our young guys got a lot of minutes for sure and that’s going to help them,” Hawerchuk said of next season. “We had a few injuries, but who doesn’t. I just think as we move forward we’ll have a good core back and we’ll have some draft picks and the Euro draft, and potentially we’ll make a couple of moves (and) shore up what we feel we got to fix.”
Goals by Aidan Brown, Ryan Suzuki, Riley Piercey and Tyson Foerster had Barrie (26-38-3-1) cruising for most of the game, before the wheels came off halfway through the third period.
The Steelheads scored four times in a little more than four minutes, with Cole Schwindt capping the comeback with the winner and his second of the game with just 1:56 remaining.
“The last 10 minutes was kind of the epitome of our season,” Hawerchuk said. “I think our youth, at times, we forget what we did for 50 minutes and then try to just contain. We sit back instead of being aggressive, trying to keep the game in front of us.”
Alan Lyszczarczyk also scored twice for Steelheads (32-29-5-2), who finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and will face the Sudbury Wolves in the opening round of the OHL playoffs. Nick Isaacson had the other Mississauga goal.
It was an emotional day for graduating overager Ben Hawerchuk, who was playing in his last OHL game. Hawerchuk got a big hug from Barrie captain Jason Willms as he came off the ice and then a pat on the back and hug from his father.
“I’m real proud of him,” the Colts head coach said of his son, who led the team with 27 goals this season. “He’s a hard worker and kind of a heart and soul guy. That way it’s been easy. They always ask me is it hard to coach your son and he works so hard I never worry about that. He’s a team guy and he’s had a good career here.
“It’s unfortunate it had to finish the way it did, but you move on. That’s life and the next day brings you new experiences.”
Tucker hopes his young teammates remember this feeling of disappointment. It’s the second time in his junior career the St. Louis Blues prospect has missed the playoffs and he feels for his older teammates who have to end their careers without a playoff run.
“The older guys, (like) Hawerchuk, they don’t want to lose,” he said. “They want to go far in the playoffs, so hopefully next year we can make the playoffs and do some damage.”
photo: The Barrie Colts dearly missed the scoring of rookie import forward Matej Pekar down the stretch. The Colts, who failed to make the playoffs, closed out their 2018-19 OHL season with a 5-4 loss to the Mississauga Steelheads. Terry Wilson/OHL Images