It’s not often a team goes from the bottom of the standings to the top of the division in less than 12 months, but the Barrie Colts have improved their record by 34 points and counting this season and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
After finishing at the bottom of the Ontario Hockey League last season, the Barrie Colts had nowhere to go but up. With March fast approaching on the calendar the Colts appear poised to capture their fourth Central Division title in six years thanks in large part to the Eastern Conference’s most potent offence.
The turnaround has been quite something. Immediate additions in first overall OHL Priority Selection pick Ryan Suzuki and first overall CHL Import Draft choice Andrei Svechnikov gave the club an immediate offensive boost before the midseason acquisition of OHL scoring leader Aaron Luchuk gave them another layer of depth.
Minnesota Wild prospect Dmitry Sokolov joined Luchuk as a top flight addition in early January from the division rival Sudbury Wolves and has proceeded to score 22 goals in 21 games with Barrie. Sokolov, Luchuk and top NHL Draft prospect Svechnikov have since formed one of the league’s most effective offensive units.
“Obviously (we’re) three guys who can really shoot the puck and score from any point on the ice,” Luchuk told Gene Pereira of the Simcoe Review. “We look for each other too. We’re not selfish with the puck. We’re always trying to find open nets for each other.
Luchuk, who scored the winning goal to lead the Windsor Spitfires to a Mastercard Memorial Cup title on home ice last spring, earned an NHL contract with the Ottawa Senators in late December. He’s currently one point away from 100 on the season.
“Whether I’m scoring, Sokolov is scoring or Svechnikov is scoring it doesn’t really matter for us as long as we’re putting up the points,” he added.
Luchuk (18 games) and Svechnikov (15 games) both carry point streaks into a weekend that includes action against Niagara and Kingston.
Overage forward Lucas Chiodo (25-37–62) is also producing at over a point-per-game, giving head coach Dale Hawerchuk a number of weapons to turn to offensively.
While Barrie’s big line is getting the job done, the Colts can also credit the emergence of another unit featuring Jason Willms (24-28–52), Zach Magwood (21-26–47) and Jaden Peca (14-26–40) for their success throughout the season.
“We’ve been playing really well together and I think we’re at our best when we’re on that forecheck,” Willms said of his line’s performance. “Peca’s been huge for us. He’s almost quadrupled his point total from last year. I think that it shows the character of this team.”
Carrying some big names up front, the Colts have relied on an unheralded blue line led by captain Justin Murray (5-21–26) alongside former OHL champion TJ Fergus (6-26–32) and top defensive producer Joey Keane (10-29–39).
Fourth-year veteran Leo Lazarev, a goaltender known for his acrobatic saves and energetic presence in the crease, holds a 28-16-2-0 record this season along with three shutouts, giving him 11 in his OHL career. Rookie understudy Kai Edmonds comes off a 48-save shutout on Sunday, the first of his OHL career.
The Colts are the most penalized team in the OHL this season and hold the league’s 13th ranked penalty kill, a combination with potential implications down the stretch for the high-powered club.
With eight games remaining on their schedule the Colts hold a 10-point lead over second place Niagara in the Central Division headed into a Friday night matchup in St. Catharines.
After missing out on the playoffs last spring the thoroughbreds and their faithful are all set to chase their first OHL Championship since 2000.
OTHER CHL TOP-10 SPOTLIGHT FEATURES:
Sept. 28, 2017 – Regina Pats
Oct. 5, 2017 – Victoriaville Tigres
Oct. 11, 2017 – Victoria Royals
Oct. 18, 2017 – Sarnia Sting
Oct. 25, 2017 – Swift Current Broncos
Nov. 1, 2017 – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Nov. 8, 2017 – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Nov. 15, 2017 – Moose Jaw Warriors
Nov. 22, 2017 – Quebec Remparts
Nov. 29, 2017 – Hamilton Bulldogs
Dec. 6, 2017 – Brandon Wheat Kings
Dec. 12, 2017 – Rimouski Oceanic
Dec. 28, 2017 – Drummondville Voltigeurs
Jan. 3, 2018 – Kitchener Rangers
Jan. 10, 2018 – Halifax Mooseheads
Jan. 17, 2018 – Kelowna Rockets
Jan. 31, 2018 – Everett Silvertips
Feb. 7, 2018 – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Feb. 14, 2018 – Portland Winterhawks
Feb. 21, 2018 – Acadie-Bathurst Titan