When you’re riding your first three-game losing streak of the season, you just get down to work. That’s the message Barrie Colts captain Justin Murray is passing on to his teammates on the heels of dropping games to the Kitchener Rangers, London Knights and Kingston Frontenacs.
The Colts, whose lead atop the Central Division standings on the Niagara IceDogs is down to two points, will look to put their longest losing skid of the year behind them on Jan. 11 when they host the Sudbury Wolves at the Barrie Molson Centre.
“I definitely think we had some spurts where we played well and we didn’t get the bounces sometimes, but that’s how it goes,” said Murray, after a 6-4 loss to Kingston on Jan. 6. “We’re going to keep working.”
Coming off a run of six games in 10 days, the Colts face another busy stretch with three games in three nights. After the Sudbury game, they hit the road Jan. 12 to take on the Niagara IceDogs and wrap up the weekend against the North Bay Battalion back at home on Jan. 13.
The Colts went into their recent losing skid riding a six-game win streak and head coach Dale Hawerchuk believes they can get back to their winning ways if they stay the course.
“Sometimes when things are going well you’re probably not quite as good as you think you are,” he said. “When it’s not going well, you’re not as poor as you would think. Everybody has got to dig in and dig out. It’s not time to point fingers. We did a lot of good things too and if we keep playing the right way, you’ll get the bounces.”
With the OHL trade deadline for overage players set for Jan. 9 and the remaining players on Jan. 10 at noon, focus can be tough for players at this time of year. While numerous deals have already been made, the Colts have remained quiet on the trade front since acquiring Aaron Luchuk from Windsor in a blockbuster deal before Christmas.
“It’s probably the same for everyone though,” Hawerchuk said of the anxious period for players. “You can’t use that as an excuse.”
Murray believes it’s just important players focus on what they can control.
“Some guys get a little antsy about it and you just try not to worry about it,” said the third-year blue liner. “We’re just going to go and focus on the game coming up and try not to worry about stuff that is out of our control.”
With a 23-13-2-1 record, the Colts have moved past the midway point of the 68-game OHL schedule. They’ve taken a big leap forward from the rebuilding club that finished dead last in the OHL last season with just 17 wins.
Barrie now finds itself seven points behind the Hamilton Bulldogs and top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Teams coming into the Barrie are well aware of the improved team and that means the Colts can ill afford any off nights, especially as intensity ramps up in the second half as some teams battle for positioning and others to make the playoffs.
“I think they’re learning that when you’re sitting in first place (in the division), people are going to be ready for you,” Hawerchuk said. “It’s not like they’re coming in playing a last place team of a year ago, so you’ve got to be on your toes.
“You’ve got to be ready and your preparation’s got to be good and when you get in the game you’ve got to execute.”
Murray is confident he and his teammates can build on the turnaround they’ve had this season and finish year the strong heading into the playoffs.
“We have almost the same group we did last year and we went through a long, rough patch last year, so I think we know we’re going to battle through it and do our thing here,” he said.
Game time Jan. 11 is 7:30 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: After going scoreless in five games, Luchuk scored twice against Kingston. The Ottawa Senators prospect leads all OHL scorers with 33 goals and sits second overall in league scoring with 61 points. Former Barrie Colt midget ‘AAA’ forward Morgan Frost of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds leads all scorers with 65 points. . . Barrie defenceman Joey Keane is fourth in the league with a plus/minus of plus 27. Frost also leads that category with a plus 46. . . Colts first-round pick Ryan Suzuki sits fourth in OHL rookie scoring with seven goals and 19 assists for 26 points.
Photo by Miranda Zilkowsky