The Barrie Colts couldn’t pull off another passing grade in their second big test of the weekend against the top two teams in the OHL Western Conference.

Fresh off a 3-1 win two nights earlier against the conference-leading London Knights, a late rally by the Colts wasn’t enough as they fell, 8-5, to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Jan. 19, at the Barrie Molson Centre. Keegan Howdeshell scored three times and Philadelphia Flyers top prospect and former Barrie Colts triple-A minor midget forward Morgan Frost added two goals and a pair of assists to lead the way for the Greyhounds (29-10-4-1), who have now won five straight.

Cole MacKay, Holden Whale and Cullen McLean also scored for the Soo. Mac Hollowell had three assists.

Jaden Peca, making his first return to Barrie since being dealt the Greyhounds at the deadline, had an assist and now has seven points in seven games with his new team.

Luke Bignell, Ryan Suzuki, Jacob Tortora, Dalton Duhart and Tyson Foerster replied for the Colts (19-23-1-0), who scored a little more than a minute apart late in the third to cut the lead to 7-5, before Frost’s empty-netter iced the win with just 1:04 remaining.

“I thought we had a good effort in the third,” Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk said of his young club giving themselves a late-game chance. “Just a few minutes in the second (we had) a couple of bad penalties and then some poor coverage in our end. A good team like that, they’ll eat you up.”

The Greyhounds, up 2-1, ramped up their intensity in the second and scored four times to grab control of the game, chasing Barrie starter Kai Edmonds from the net at 10:44 with five goals on 19 shots.

“They have five guys coming all the time,” Hawerchuk said. “We scored five against them because we trapped a few times. They’re engaged and their five guys are coming. It’s a good lesson for our younger guys. You’re out there for 35-40 seconds, be engaged the whole time, be ready. Maybe you don’t get the puck, but you sure make people have to backcheck hard to get you. That wears teams down.”

The Colts can make up some key ground in the Eastern Conference when they host the Hamilton Bulldogs on Jan. 24 and visit the Mississauga Steelheads in back-to-back games against teams that are just ahead of them in the standings. Barrie wraps up the busy three-games-in-three-nights set, at home, Jan. 26, against the Kingston Frontenacs.

“Every game is big, but we’ve got a three-in-three and those are always tough,” Hawerchuk said. “They’re definitely important games. Those are (games) where they’re probably more than just two-point games. We’ll start with Thursday night (Hamilton) and hopefully we can get a good start to the weekend and run with it.”

ICE CHIPS: Before the game, the Colts paid tribute to Peca with a short tribute video and a gift from the club. . . Top pick Riley Piercey was a healthy scratch as recently signed Matthew Sredl made his OHL debut on the blue line. “We wanted to get Sredl in, just give him a little taste,” said Hawerchuk, who said Piercey will be back in against Hamilton with Suzuki away at the CHL Top Prospects game. . . Hawerchuk was not happy with MacKay’s goal, saying the Greyhounds forward should have been called for goalie interference when he ran into Edmonds before teammate Jordan Sambrook kicked the puck and it went off MacKay’s stick. “I wish our league had replay where the refs could look at it on the side, so we could really get it right,” the Colts coach said.

Photo: Barrie Colts forward Jacob Tortora scored late in the third period to bring the Barrie Colts within two off the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, but it was as close as they would get in an 8-5 loss, Jan. 19, at the Barrie Molson Centre. Terry Wilson/OHL Images

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