Sports Local Hockey

Colts reflect on a long season, and look forward to next year

By Stephen Sweet, Special to Postmedia Network

Barrie Colts Andreas Athanasiou, left, and Aaron Ekblad are stunned after losing the Ontario Hockey League championship title to the London Knights with less than one second left on the clock, Monday at Budweiser Gardens. MIKE HENSEN QMI AGENCY

Barrie Colts Andreas Athanasiou, left, and Aaron Ekblad are stunned after losing the Ontario Hockey League championship title to the London Knights with less than one second left on the clock, Monday at Budweiser Gardens. MIKE HENSEN QMI AGENCY

It’s hard to pick up the pieces after what happened Monday night in London.

But that’s something the Barrie Colts know they need to do.

Instead of preparing to fly to Saskatoon, the Colts were cleaning out their lockers at the Barrie Molson Centre (BMC) on Tuesday, as their season abruptly came to an end thanks to a last-second goal in Game 7 of the Ontario Hockey League championship.

“It’s almost devastating,” said Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad. “After the game, when they called that final goal, I couldn’t even speak at the time.”

A day later, and it still wasn’t easy to take.

“It’s just that empty feeling in your stomach that you have to deal with all summer,” said Colts forward Zach Hall. “You win some and you lose some, and obviously, you want to win, but it’s just something you’ve got to swallow pretty deeply and just look forward to next year.”

For those like overager Steven Beyers, there is no next year, at least in the OHL, which means that the defeat hasn’t gotten any more distant to him in 24 hours.

“Not at all,” Beyers said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to get too much easier, knowing that you’re one second away from an OHL championship game going to overtime.

“It’s a tough way to end your career, but it was a good run while it lasted.”

The Game 7 loss in London spells the end of the OHL careers for Beyers, fellow overagers Mathias Niederberger and Ryan O’Connor, as well as (at least) forwards Mark Scheifele and Anthony Camara.

“I’m sad for all of the overagers,” Ekblad said. “(O’Connor) looks all choked up and it’s terrible. I feel bad for him.

“But I know a lot of guys are going to move on and do great things, and I’m just happy to be a part of the Barrie organization.”

Scheifele didn’t even get to play in his team’s final game, as he did not make the trip to London, suffering from what a Colts staff member called “concussion-like symptoms”.

“I think it’s harder to watch the game than to play in it,” Scheifele said. “It was tough and not being able to go was heartbreaking.

“Seeing the boys today made things a little better, though.”

Even with the defeat still weighing heavily on their minds, the players got to be back in their familiar surroundings on Tuesday, spending the afternoon at the BMC doing exit interviews before a final team dinner.

“We’re all just trying to cherish the last few moments we have with everybody,” said Beyers, who hasn’t determined where he’ll be playing next year. “We’ll all be parting ways in a couple of days, so we’re trying to enjoy our last moments together.”

Even that took a bit of a dampening as the Colts learned early Tuesday that London had won the Memorial Cup bid for 2014, hosting the event now for the second time in less than a decade.

“On (Monday) night, on the bus ride home, a couple of guys said they thought Barrie would get (the Memorial Cup),” Beyers said. “I said that there was no way, and that London obviously was going to get it.

“Yet again they get it, so it’s a tough bounce again and Barrie gets screwed over.”

Ekblad will make sure the players still here next season take that as extra motivation to get to the tournament by merit.

“That doesn’t dishearten us at all,” Ekblad said. “We’re going to work our hardest and hopefully, the whole country supports us.

“We don’t want anyone to look down on us.”

The off-season will give the players a chance to rest the injuries accumulated from playing 90 games that gained intensity as the season wore on.

“I’m in pretty rough (shape) right now,” said Hall, who played through a hip injury. “In the playoffs, it’s all about adrenaline and that extra push and doing it for your teammates.

“You come this far and you have an injury you can go through, you want to.”

After they get home, they’ll be thinking about next year.

For Ekblad, that will mean improving his game, as he takes on a bigger role with the Colts ahead of his draft year.

“I just want to get quicker,” he said. “Foot speed is my biggest downfall, so hopefully, I can do that a little better.”

His immediate goal, though, is to get rid of that playoff beard.

“I think I might go get a haircut later today or tomorrow and shave it off,” Ekblad smiled.

Hall will be one of a number of 1993-born players who isn’t sure whether he’ll be in junior or pro hockey next year, as he looks to get drafted or signed by an NHL team.

“It’s something that you’ve played for all your life,” said Hall, who went to the Vancouver Canucks prospect camp last summer. “Just to get the opportunity, it doesn’t matter whether I get drafted or signed.

“I just need that ticket to the show and I’ll prove myself when I get there.”

Things are a little more clear for Scheifele, who will get another opportunity to crack the Winnipeg Jets roster after playing 11 NHL games in the past two seasons.

He knows he won’t be back with the Colts, but appreciates the time he had in Barrie.

“The friendships I had with all of the guys on the team were amazing and everything I’ve learned from (head coach) Dale (Hawerchuk) and the coaching staff was a good thing,” Scheifele said. “I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my career.

“I owe so much to the Barrie organization and the Barrie fans, and everything they’ve done for me in my career.”

Now, he’ll put his focus on becoming a full-time NHL player.

“That’s the goal,” Scheifele said. “It was pretty tough not making the team the last two years, and I won’t be thinking about anything this summer other than making that team.”

As the players go their separate ways, the one thing they will cherish was the way the team came together and worked through adversity all season long.

“It was a very successful year,” Hall said. “This is definitely the best team that I’ve ever been a part of my whole life.

“It’s amazing how we came together and played like true champions all year, and we kept picking each other up whenever anyone got down,” Hall added. “It was a very special team this year.”

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