26 May 2016
OHL’s Barrie Colts ascend
15 December 2009
The Barrie Colts have been broken in, one might say. A veteran club coached by Marty Williamson (sixth consecutive season), the exceptional Colts have ascended to the OHL penthouse, stringing together the Ontario Hockey League’s longest winning streak in ten years with 19 straight victories, compiling a superb record of 27-4-0-1. They have ascended to third spot in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Ten Rankings.
A mature team in major junior standards, with only two 16-year-olds and three 17-year-olds having suited up for the club all season long, most youngsters have not played a significant role. Barrie management preferred rather, to acquire overage sniper Bryan Cameron (3rd round, Los Angeles 2007) and a pair of quality defenseman from the Saginaw Spirit, T.J. Brodie (4th round, Calgary 2008) and Nick Crawford (6th round, Buffalo 2008) to challenge for Memorial Cup success immediately.
"We're still a work in progress. We're still a little too high risk for my liking . . . especially when we get a lead," Williamson commented in mid-October after a win against a powerful London Knights team. "Peter Di Salvo bailed us out a lot tonight. The bounces seem to go our way."
Lately however, Williamson has seen his team take to the comfort of having the back end covered, with Crawford and undrafted/aforementioned 19-year-old goalie Di Salvo being named OHL Players of the Month for November 2009 at their respective positions. “And we're playing pretty solid defensively,” Williamson told Ian Shantz of Sun Media, “noting the goal is to keep the opposition to three or fewer goals a game and allow the talented forwards up front to worry about the rest.”
Di Salvo has been spectacular, posting top five numbers in every major statistical category for OHL netminders. He gives the defense a boost, allowing the group of top-flight forwards to keep opposing teams on their heels. Di Salvo was perfect in November (as were the Colts), sporting a terrific 8-0-0-0 record, a 1.48 GAA, and a .946 save percentage to compliment a shut-out during that span. Add to that Di Salvo tending net for Team OHL, registering a win in Barrie for the Canada/Russia tilt named the Subway Super Series on 19 November, and his star is really emerging. Coach Williamson and Washington Capitals’ draft-pick Stefan Della Rovere were also part of the team, as was Calgary drafted Brodie.
The team also performs for Di Salvo’s understudy, 18-year-old Dalton McGrath, who has accumulated eight wins, a 2.33 GAA, and .930 save percentage in his eight appearances. The defense in Barrie has been an incredibly cohesive unit, allowing just 79 goals in 32 games (2.47 per game). Only their Central Division rival Mississauga has allowed fewer (77). From the defensive standpoint, the rest of the OHL is incomparable.
Shifting focus onto the most noticeable cog in the Barrie machine, the offense, the Colts have scored 152 goals (4.75 per game) in their contests. Only the Windsor Spitfires have scored more goals, 179 in 35 matches (5.11 per game).
The attack is led by Tampa Bay Lightning 2009 4th round pick and current OHL ‘Player of the Week’ Alex Hutchings, scoring ace Luke Pither, industrious leader Della Rovere, Cameron, and adept Russian import, Alexander Burmistrov (left). Della Rovere is assured a spot on the Canadian U-20 Junior Team that will compete in the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championships in Saskatchewan, commencing on 26 December. Burmistrov is duly imposing his will to entertain the Russian faithful in the tournament as well, and has been rated #17 in the International Scouting Services' recent rankings. Barrie certainly has stars to pick the team up.
The offensive death charges may be led by this marquee of talent, but the forward lines are balanced too, and can attack at any given point. Kyle Clifford (2nd round, Los Angeles 2009), Taylor Carnevale, and Darren Archibald are more than capable of filling the score sheet on a nightly basis, while 16-year-old rookie Ryan Strome is tallying points in the past few weeks and garnering some attention.
Complacency may be the only hindrance, as with any group of talented individuals. But the leadership ethic that exists on the club seems to shine through any immediate deficiencies. "For us, we should have never let it get that close in the first place," Hutchings commented in the Barrie Examiner article by Stephan Sweet on 4 December 2009 after a scare against the Niagara IceDogs. "It's a wake-up call for us, we have to do better than this." Williamson is assured by the group and figures the new year will be extraordinary. "We knew it was going to be a battle and we were ready for it," Archibald was quoted in the Toronto Sun on 28 November. "We're riding on all cylinders right now and everybody is contributing."
The team has reacted suitably since, with such a stable force of mature complimentary talent brought on board. The OHL playoff picture has a strong contender not named the London Knights or Windsor Spitfires.
15 December 2009 / Robin Keith Thompson
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