Green Colts no match for Storm
School was in for the Barrie Colts on Thursday night and head coach Dale Hawerchuk hopes his young team learned a little something from the lesson dished out by a talented trio of Guelph Storm forwards.
The dynamic line of Peter Holland between Taylor Beck and Michael Latta is a tough match for any opposing team in the Ontario Hockey League, but they proved too much for the inexperienced Colts, combining for five goals in a Guelph's 6-1 exhibition win at the Barrie Molson Centre.
"You could argue that could be the top line in the league," said Hawerchuk, whose team was 0-3 in the preseason heading into Friday night's game against the Wolves in Sudbury. "I'd seen those guys last year and those guys were pretty dominant last year. Now, they are a year older, bigger and stronger and we're a lot younger.
"These guys can watch and learn and, hopefully, some of these guys took some good things out of (Thursday's) game."
This year's Colts will certainly field a much younger squad than last season, but the lineup Hawerchuk is icing these days is as a green as it can be with the likes of Peter Di Salvo, Dalton Prout, Alexander Burmistrov, Kyle Clifford and Darren Archibald all away at NHL camps.
The Storm on the other hand iced its regular lineup with the exception of defenceman Daniel Maggio and goaltender Brandon Foote, although Holland, Beck and Latta are expected to leave for NHL camp this weekend.
"I don't know why are guys had to go to camp early and theirs didn't," Hawerchuk said with a chuckle. "Still, it was a good test for our guys and now they know what they are up against.
"There was times there where I thought we played very well. We had some good pressure on them, but just couldn't cash in.
"It's just the little things they have to get under their belts. Maybe little shorter shifts so they keep their energy up, little plays at the blue line and learning you have to take the body in this league. If you don't take bodies, you're not going to have a very long career."
The Colts still have 29 players vying for this year's roster, including the five veterans away at NHL camps and injured centre Taylor Carnevale.
But with six regulars out of his lineup, and the uncertainty of just who will return and who won't means Hawerchuk won't likely be making many cuts any time soon.
Icing such a youthful group will mean some growing pains, but it also gives Hawerchuk and his staff an opportunity to provide his young players with some key minutes and let them play in all kinds of situations while getting a look at what they have.
"Right now, it's hard to because we have a lot of bodies away," Hawerchuk said of trimming the roster. "You don't know who's coming back. Right now, we really have only four guys who have experience from a year ago. That's pretty tough, and a couple guys didn't really play a lot.
"It's a tough road for them, but they have to decide as a group that they are going to come and pull together. That they are not going to worry about each guy's individual items or whatever. If they come out and play as a group, you can beat anybody. I've seen that before."
With Di Salvo away, Hawerchuk is getting a good look at both rookie goaltender Clint Windsor and returnee Dalton McGrath in the battle for the backup spot.
Windsor played the second half of Monday's 5-4 loss at home to Owen Sound, giving up all five goals and played the full 60 minutes against Guelph.
His young blue line in front of him didn't help much at times.
"I though he did really well," Hawerchuk said. "I though he played a good game (Thursday). We scored one in our own net and two layups, so you take those away and you're looking at a 3-1 game and you're right there."
Barrie still has nine players on the blue line in camp, including overagers Chris Wiggin and Prout.
Stephen Gaskin and Mitch Bennett, who played sparingly on the point as a rookie last year, should take two of the seven defensive roster spots, along with Prout should he be returned from Columbus.
Third round pick Brandon Devlin has also played well and should take another spot, leaving a wide open battle among newcomers Mackenzie Braid, Mitchell Bursey and free agent invitees Kyler Nixon and Norm Ezekiel for the other openings.
"For sure, there's a lot of youth back there," Hawerchuk said. "We're lucky we get six exhibition games, some teams are only playing four. For us, with all our rookies, this is a good thing. We're not going to get any better not getting those opportunities now."
"We are going to have to live and die with them at times," Hawerchuk added, "but I look back at my career. If coaches didn't believe in me and give me some time when I made a few mistakes, where would I be? The kids that learn and go on forward from them, they'll be good."
Things are also still very much in the air up front. Many expect Clifford to earn a spot with the Los Angeles Kings, while Atlanta first-round pick Burmistrov is said to have a real shot at making the Thrashers. Archibald is hoping to sign a pro deal with the Detroit Red Wings, but he should return as should Di Salvo from the St. Louis Blues camp.
"If you add Burmistrov, if you add Clifford, Prout and put in Archibald and Carnevale, we've got a pretty good hockey club," Hawerchuk said.
"You add this young talent that's here, we've got a pretty good hockey club. But that's life in (the OHL) right now."
That young talent includes recent acquisitions Mark Scheifele and Steven Beyers along with late 2008 draft pick Tanner Pearson.
"(Scheifele's) a nice hockey player, for sure," Hawerchuk said of the centre who had two goals against Owen Sound on Monday. "But these are 17-year-old hockey players we're talking about and they've got a lot to learn. I think Scheifele, Beyers and Pearson they got low mileage, but those guys are doing pretty well for just getting their feet wet."
"We just have to keep evaluating," added Hawerchuk. "And, come the regular season, we just have to go with the guys we think have come the furthest and have the biggest upside."
The Colts return to action at home Sunday afternoon when they host the division rival Brampton Battalion. Puck drop set for 2 p.m.