Sports

Opponents on the Mark: IN THE GAME 0

Gene Pereira - Special to the Examiner

Mark Scheifele has taken a pounding in this year's playoffs and even that might be bit of an understatement.

Heck, only a Whack-A-Mole could relate to the battering the Barrie Colts star centre has taken, first in the opening round against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors and now from the Ottawa 67's in their Eastern Conference semifinals.

So, what does a player who is double-shifted nightly, wears opposing players on him like a snug winter sweater and is expected to carry a huge load on a team missing six of its regulars do to relax and recharge the batteries on an off-day?

Perhaps find a comfy sofa, put up his feet and watch a movie with some teammates, play some video games or just grab some well deserved sleep, right?

Well, there is some of that.

"You've got to be able to get (some) rest. You've got to get time just to kind of chill out and get away from hockey," said the 19-year-old veteran, who is playing his best hockey of the season and will look to help Barrie grab a commanding 3-1 series lead on Ottawa on Thursday night at the Barrie Molson Centre.

Scheifele, though, has something better to take his mind away from a gruelling playoff run.

"I do online courses to kind of get away from it, that's my thing," the seventh overall pick of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft told the Examiner's Stephen Sweet after scoring a goal and adding an assist in Barrie's 5-2 win Tuesday night in Game 3.

"Everyone's just resting," Scheifele said. "We come out for a skate each day and just kind of rest the rest of the day. Get good food in us, get hydrated. That's the main thing."

But study? With all these intensive playoff matches, a battered and bruised Scheifele finds it relaxing.

"I'm doing pretty good," he said. "I think you have to be able to get your mind off of hockey and you can't be focusing on it all the time. You've got to be able to get away from it and be able to think about something else.

"It kind of keeps your mind going, so that's the way I look at it."

Like a good old Timex that's been stepped on and smashed over and over, Scheifele has taken a licking and kept on ticking these playoffs.

In a tough opening round, Majors' defenceman Stuart Percy was all over Scheifele.

It wouldn't have been surprising if the Colt had gone to the bench to grab a breather and Percy was right there sitting beside him.

St. Michael's did everything to throw the talented Colts' centre off his game. They nearly knocked him out of the series in Game 5 when Mississauga's Eric Diodati nailed him from behind into the end boards early in the third period.

Scheifele missed the rest of the contest, but would return in Game 6 two nights later and record a pair of assists to help the Colts clinch the series with a 3-2 overtime win.

Since then, with the exception perhaps of goaltender Mathias Niederberger, Scheifele has been Barrie's best player.

Against the 67's, he's been brilliant at times. All this under tremendous pressure.

With top-scorer Tanner Pearson out for the playoffs and key secondary scorers such as Zach Hall and Steven Beyers also out of the lineup, Scheifele has accepted the huge expectations being placed on his shoulders to carry the load, especially when it comes to scoring.

His four goals and 10 points are second only to linemate Ivan Telegin's 12 points. But make no mistake, Scheifele has been the offensive motor driving this Colts train.

It's been an up and down year for the Barrie forward. After starting the year in Winnipeg, Scheifele didn't mope one bit and actually racked up more than two points a game upon his return before heading off to the world junior championship over Christmas.

Perhaps fatigued from what has been an extremely busy last 12 months, Scheifele struggled at times in the second half of this season, his play far off from the player who dominated most shifts.

His meteoric rise in hockey also brought with it a ton of attention from the opposition. Scheifele was hammered at every chance, testing his will in an effort to get him off his game.

He appeared to let it bother him, often jawing with officials over what he felt were missed calls. It seemed the more he got upset, the more officials turned a blind eye.

The Majors were relentless in their pursuit of Scheifele.

He pushed back early, but as the series went on, he got them back the best way he knew how: on the scoresheet.

Scheifele was dominant on home ice and then with the series on the line and tied at 2-2, he rose his game another notch and helped put away a tough opponent.

Against the 67's, Scheifele has received the same attention. Ottawa's Brett Gustavsen has done all he can to get under his skin, but this time the big Barrie centre isn't biting.

"It hasn't been frustrating at all," the Kitchener native said of the added attention. "It's just a challenge that you look at and you don't want to get down on yourself if you get a hit or get a slash.

"You just want to take it as motivation, get them next shift and teach them on the scoreboard."

Scheifele has certainly done that. He has three goals and a pair of assists in the three games this series against the 67's and has arguably been the best skater on either team.

At a time when the Colts need him the most, Scheifele has found a way to push through all the abuse.

"I think it's a mindset," he said. "You've got to not worry about them at all, you just have to worry about yourself and worry about your team. When you get your mind involved in that stuff you just kind of get off your game and you've just got to know how to play it.

"Try to get them off their game and keep yourself motivated and keep yourself going."

Scheifele, though, is quick to praise his teammates for Barrie's lead in this series. They've come this far, battled through all this ­adversity, because teammates such as rookies Josh MacDonald, Brendan Bell and Erik Bradford have stepped up, while veterans Daniel Erlich and Norm Ezekiel have also taken their games to another level.

"MacDonald last year with Elmira (the Jr. B team he led to a Sutherland Cup title) was their leading scorer and the MVP of the playoffs, so you know those guys have that experience and are able to step into those key roles and survive," Scheifele explained.

In Tuesday's win, the Colts easily played their best game of the series. Barrie held a 3-1 lead heading into the third and when the 67's cut the lead to one early in the frame, Ottawa for the second straight game was threatening to erase a two goal Barrie lead in the final 20 minutes.

Not on this night. Four minutes later, Colin Behenna waltzed his way into the Ottawa zone, dished it to Erlich, who found Telegin and then the Russian slid it across the slot to a waiting Scheifele who one-timed the pass with the force of a golfer driving off the tee box.

It was almost like he wanted to put it through the net and the end boards.

"Yeah, I wanted to make sure it went in," he said with a chuckle.

After all, Scheifele's taken enough abuse, so why not be able to dish out a little of his own the best way he knows how.

Gene Pereira covers the Barrie Colts for the Barrie Examiner.


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