The Barrie Colts missed an opportunity, Jan. 24,  to make up some key ground in the Eastern Conference standings and head coach Dale Hawerchuk could hardly hide his disappointment.

A 3-2 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs at the Barrie Molson Centre widened the gap between Barrie and the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference. The Colts (19-24-1-0) now sit eight points behind both the North Bay Battalion and Mississauga Steelheads, while Hamilton (22-21-3-1) jumped a point ahead of both those teams in a tight race where just nine points separate the bottom five teams.

The Colts will get another shot to gain some ground on the teams they’re chasing when they face the Steelheads in Mississauga just 24 hours later at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre.

“This one is going to hurt for a bit, but we got to rebound by tomorrow,” Hawerchuk said after the loss to Hamilton. “Get back, get some points in the win column and start grinding away at it. The next couple of months are going to be a grind for this group.”

Isaac Nurse would play the hero on this night for Hamilton, breaking a 2-2 tie with the game winner at 9:43 of the third period. Barrie goaltender Jet Greaves kicked out the shot in front by Hamilton’s Tim Fleischer, but Nurse pounced on the rebound and buried it on the backhand.

“We had two defencemen against one forward and he got the puck,” Hawerchuk said. “That can’t happen. When that starts happening, you’re asking for trouble. We just need to do a better job there.”

After a scoreless opening period where neither team looked sharp, Luke Bignell, playing in his 100th OHL game, and Liam Van Loon traded second-period goals.

Van Loon would pot his second power-play goal of the night just 1:09 into the third to put the Bulldogs on top, but Ben Hawerchuk evened things up a little more than three minutes later when his shot from the corner somehow found its way past Hamilton goaltender Zachary Roy.

“Everybody was playing tight, but I didn’t think we were handling pucks in our own end too well early on,” the Colts head coach said of the lacklustre start. “I thought our defence struggled early on with their decision making, which kind of surprised me. Then we got better and unfortunately we didn’t take care of it at one point in the third where it kind of cost us the game.”

Barrie’s Ryan Suzuki and Hamilton’s Arthur Kaliyev did not dress after playing in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game the night before in Red Deer, Alta.

With Matej Pekar out indefinitely with a broken collarbone, the Colts were missing their top two scorers. Both could have helped out early on when Hamilton was turning over pucks in its own end.

“You miss a guy like Suzuki or Pekar,” Hawerchuk said. “That’s their forte. It’s always frustrating when you think ‘it’d be nice to have those guys,’ but these (other) guys got to step up. They’re getting the opportunity. Give credit, both goalies played well tonight too.”

Game time Jan. 25 in Mississauga is 7 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Barrie native Jake Partridge recorded his first point as a Colt, setting up Bignell on a pretty cross-ice feed in the second period. . . The Colts complete their three-in-three weekend Jan. 26 against the Kingston Frontenacs. Game time is 7:30 p.m. . . Hamilton head coach Dave Matsos returned to the Barrie Molson Centre for the first time last night after collapsing on the bench late in a game between the two teams back on Sept. 22. Matsos, who is feeling much better these days, was suffering from dehydration and exhaustion.

Photo: Luke Bignell scored, but it wasn’t enough as the Barrie Colts dropped a 3-2 decision to the Hamilton Bulldogs in OHL action, Jan. 24, at the Barrie Molson Centre. Terry Wilson/OHL Images.

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