Colts focus on their game 0
Terry Wilson Photo - Barrie Colts forward Erik Bradford tries to put the puck past Niagara IceDogs goaltender Mark Visentin, Saturday night at the Barrie Molson Centre. Niagara blanked Barrie, 5-0. Visentin's shutout gave him nine on the season, tying him for the single-season OHL record.
While this year's Ontario Hockey League standings are about as tight as they can be, the Barrie Colts maintain their true focus lies elsewhere.
With just 15 games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Colts find themselves in a battle with the Brampton Battalion and Sudbury Wolves in the Eastern Conference standings.
The third-place Battalion hold a two-point edge on the Wolves and are up three points on the Colts, but both Sudbury, with three, and Barrie, with two, hold games in hand.
For the three Central Division rivals, home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs is on the line. That usually means a great deal of scoreboard watching at this time of year.
While Dale Hawerchuk admits he checks the scores and standings, the Colts head coach wants his team's focus squarely on the game their playing and nothing else.
"One thing with me, I look at the standings, but I don't get hung up over them," Hawerchuk said after his team finished a busy weekend with a 3-0 loss to the Niagara IceDogs on Saturday. "Even us, as a group, we've got to look at each game.
"They're all important and those two points are important no matter who we're playing. You just try to win as many as you can and see where you fall in the standings at the end of the year."
Gregg Sutch agrees with his coach. The veteran winger knows that he and his teammates can't get too caught up in scoreboard watching. Their focus has to be squarely on the game they are playing.
"That's all we can control," said the Buffalo Sabres prospect, who is playing his best hockey of the season. "We can't control anything else that goes on. All we can focus on is how we play and how we play as a team. If we take care of ourselves, that will take care of the rest.
"We can only control how we play and how many points we get. If we can do that, than we're going to be good."
The Colts, who kicked off a three-games-in-three nights weekend Thursday with a 3-2 shootout loss on home ice to Sarnia and a 4-3 win in Sudbury the next night, certainly weren't very good in Saturday's loss.
A red-hot Niagara club, which has won eight of its last 10 games to move into top spot in the Eastern Conference, completely dominated the Colts in a score that could have been more lopsided had it not been for the play of Barrie goaltender Mathias Niederberger.
The IceDogs wracked up a 33-11 advantage on the shot clock after two periods, but, thanks to Niederberger, only held a 2-0 advantage heading into the final frame.
Barrie generated little in terms of offensive chances against the club many consider the best in the conference.
"They've got a good, high tempo,"?the coach said, "and that's something we've got to look at and measure ourselves, and say, 'How do we get there?'"
The IceDogs have taken their game to a whole new level and with plenty at stake from here on in, the Colts must do the same.
"They're a deep hockey club," Hawerchuk said. "I think when we're healthy our depth is pretty good, but we've got some young guys that have to learn to start raising the bar, and some older guys that have been with other clubs and been in certain situations and the same thing, they've got to start raising the bar."
The Colts lack of jump could be explained with it being their third game in three nights, but that's no excuse, Sutch says.
"I think we all know we can play better and we all know we can play with them," he said.
"We're going to have to learn how to go from here," he added. "It's a live and learn game. We experienced it and now we've got to get ready for (this) week and we know what to do next time."
The Colts especially feel like they missed out on an opportunity against Sarnia. Down 2-0 late in the third period, Barrie scored twice just 1:21 apart to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Sarnia goaltender JP Anderson had a great game, but the Colts played with little desperation until the last 10 minutes.
"Thursday night was a tough loss," said Sutch, who sent the game into overtime when he stripped the Sting's Brett Thompson of the puck, turned and beat Anderson. "It was too little, too late. We started playing really good in the last 10 minutes of the game. If we had played that way all game, it wouldn't have been that close a game and we would have won in regulation."
Despite the win, the Colts weren't much better Friday in Sudbury against a Wolves team that was missing nine regulars.
"I thought our weakest game was the game up in Sudbury," Hawerchuk said. "They were pretty shorthanded with players. I thought we were fortunate to get the two points there.
"Maybe we were a little out of juice (Saturday), the third game in three nights, but that being said we know we've got to raise that bar. It's an OK weekend, but we're here to win every one."
The schedule doesn't get any easier this weekend for the Colts. On Friday, they travel to Kitchener, before returning home Saturday to face Oshawa. They complete another busy weekend with a Monday afternoon (Family Day) contest in Oshawa.
"We really don't have much time to make any mistakes here," Sutch said. "We've got to get every point we can, so we've got to learn quick and we've got to execute right away so that's going to be critical going down the stretch here."
And keep that focus squarely on their own game.
"We need to concentrate on ourselves first and push ourselves to another level," Hawerchuk said. "We'll start that Monday morning."
- Mark Visentin's shutout of Barrie on Saturday was his ninth of the season, tying him with Don Lockhart for the OHL record in one season.
- Veteran forwards Daniel Erlich and Dylan Smoskowitz were healthy scratches on Saturday.