Hot-to-trot Colts head into new campaign without true enforcer
The Windsor Spitfires hoisted the Memorial Cup with enforcer Richard Greenop on its side last season.
A year before that, the Kitchener Rangers won a league title with Mike Duco laying beat-downs on the opposition.
When the John Ross Robertson Cup landed in Plymouth, Mich., in 2006-07, big Jared Boll struck fear in the team's opponents.
The Barrie Colts, who open a promising Ontario Hockey League campaign at home to the Owen Sound Attack on Thursday, would welcome back bruising Pete Stevens in a heartbeat.
Without the bona fide pugilist in the fold, Barrie's talented group of goal-scorers is at risk of getting picked on.
"You can't take away from the toughguys. They always have a big role," said overager Luke Pither, who had three points in Barrie's 6-2 win over the Guelph Storm on Saturday at the Barrie Molson Centre, helping the Colts close out the pre-season at a perfect 5-0 for the first time in 15 seasons.
As it stands, with one of three overage spots still open, there's a slight chance Stevens could return to throw his fists up for the Colts. But he's trying to land a pro job with the Boston Bruins, and if not there, with the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies.
"He figures if he's going to fight, he might as well be getting paid for it," Barrie head coach Marty Williamson said. "But he's still part of our team until he makes it there. And I would be pretty enthusiastic about it if Pete decides to come back."
Without Stevens, the Nightmare From New York, the Colts will skate the black-eyed path together.
"I think we can address it as team toughness. By committee, we'll be tough enough," Barrie assistant coach David Bell said. "But we'll address it, for sure. We do want to get tougher with the skill set that we have. We do need some protection out there for them."
In the meantime, Kyle Clifford, Stefan Della Rovere and Dalton Prout will gladly drop the mitts, and defenders Mitch Bennett and Chris Wiggin appear more than willing, as well.
Clifford and Della Rovere might be better used in a scoring role, though.
Of course, what should be one of the league's most potent offensive teams can find other ways to hurt opponents.
Early in Saturday's game, rookie Dean Pawlaczyk took an ugly, illegal hit behind Guelph's net. While none of Pawlaczyk's Colts teammates came to his rescue, Barrie did score on the same shift, with a delayed penalty call headed Guelph's way.
"If we can suck it up and take a punch in the head or take a slash, and kill them on the power play, that's an avenue you go," Bell said. "You don't always need to answer with pushing your toughguy out there and having a fight. You take a punch in the head, take a two-minute power play, and you score a goal. We do have the personnel, that we should be able to hurt people on the power play, as opposed to physically hurting them."
Pither went to the conference finals with the Belleville Bulls last season, a team void of an all-out enforcer type, but tough to play against just the same.
"I think it's the same situation as in Belleville," the smooth-skating centre said. "We had guys like (Brandon) Mashinter who can put the points up, score goals and still drop the gloves when need be."
Michael Sgarbossa scored twice for Barrie on Saturday, while Ryan O'Connor, David Mazurak, Pawlaczyk and Pither had the others. Ryan Strome had two assists.
ICE CHIPS:With 17 forwards and eight defenceman listed on Barrie's roster as of Saturday night, cuts will be forthcoming, with Brett Valliquette, Zach Hall, and, perhaps, Adam Payerl, hanging on for dear life at forward ... Bennett and Wiggin remain in a dogfight for the final blue-line position ... Dalton McGrath won all three of his pre-season starts, and will enter the season as Barrie's backup goalie ... Darren Archibald (Columbus), Kyle Clifford (L. A.), Alex Hutchings (Tampa Bay) and Stefan Della Rovere (Washington) could be unavailable for Thursday's season opener, as they have been kept on at main NHL camps. Della Rovere is battling a shoulder injury. Peter Di Salvo (St. Louis) and Luke Pither (New York Rangers) have returned, while Dalton Prout (Edmonton) is expected back in time for Thursday ... Hall, Barrie's third-round pick in 2009, wore a full cage throughout the pre-season as an insurance policy, as he has yet to sign with the Colts. That signing must come prior to Thursday, should the Colts wish to use Hall this season.