Overagers Radke, Stefano end OHL career in Barrie's 6-3 loss to Kingston
Colts overager Anthony Stefano, in his final game, cuts to the front of the net. Stefano led Barrie in scoring this season with 56 points. MARK WANZEL PHOTO
It was a situation unfamiliar to almost every other Barrie Colt in franchise history.
But coming into Saturday night, both Roy Radke and Anthony Stefano knew this was it.
And when the buzzer sounded at the end of Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Kingston Frontenacs, the book closed on a pair of fine Ontario Hockey League careers.
“You try to treat it like any other day in this league, but at the end of the day, it's not,” Stefano said. “It's been over 270 games, including playoffs, and maybe more than that.
“It's very bittersweet.”
With the Colts not making the playoffs for just the second time ever, the pair of overage forwards were not able to enter Saturday night as many of their predecessors had, being able to put their focus on keeping their post-season alive.
“When it's your last game and it's in the playoffs, it's a little harder to plan,” Stefano said. “For the last couple of weeks, since we've been eliminated, I've just been taking a couple of extra seconds at this barn, soaking it all in, because this is it.”
That meant the magnitude of the event was ever-present for Radke and Stefano, who had spent three and one-and-a-half years in a Colts jersey, respectively.
“We kind of knew a couple of weeks ago, so it was weird as it kept getting closer,” Radke said. “When it was finally here tonight, it was a weird experience.
“You just had to try and treat it like any other game.”
For Stefano, a four-year OHL player, it had been an incredible ride.
Stefano, who was originally drafted by the Peterborough Petes, cracked their roster as a 17-year old, putting up 35 points in 65 games.
He was dealt to a rebuilding Windsor Spitfires squad a year later and stayed there until December of 2016, when Stefano came to Barrie in exchange for Brendan Lemieux.
“I really didn't know what to expect when I came here,” Stefano said. “I had a conversation with (Colts head coach) Dale (Hawerchuk) and he thought I could bring a lot to the table.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to play with such a great team.”
The Sault Ste. Marie native immediately meshed with this group and found a mentor in the Colts bench boss.
“Words can't describe how much he's helped me, even behind the scenes with little things” Stefano said. “I've always followed hockey and been infatuated with it since I was a little kid.
“When you've got a hall of famer out there, you pay extra attention,” added Stefano, who also mentioned the significance that assistant coaches Todd Miller and Mike Rosati had in his career as well.
This season, Stefano put up a career-best 22 goals and 34 assists in 61 games, leading the Colts in scoring.
He also became the team's bona fide leader when fellow overager Cordell James was traded to Owen Sound.
“I grew up in a league that was a little different my first year, with a different rule for fighting and stickwork,” Stefano said. “Being able to come in and be a leader this year was a new experience for me.
“I was able to bring a bit of myself from the past into this dressing room and hopefully, I made a good name for myself in this dressing room and was able to teach all of these guys at least one thing that can stick with them for their careers.”
While Stefano was a kid growing up in an OHL market, Radke came from a Chicago suburb, and didn't commit to come to Barrie until his 18-year old season.
Although Radke spent much of that first campaign getting adjusted to the OHL game, he did score four goals in nine playoff contests to catch the eye of his hometown Blackhawks, who selected him in the sixth round that year.
“I picked up my pace a lot and you learn that you kind of have to take things as they come,” Radke said. “You're going to go through ups and downs, but you have to keep a level head and keep getting after it every day.”
Radke learned his trade in the OHL from another power forward.
“My first year coming up, I was nervous and didn't know anyone here,” Radke said. “Our OA that year, Garrett Hooey, took me under his wing and really made me feel comfortable that year.
“He taught me a lot about playing in this league.”
The big winger proved a reliable source of offence last season, putting up a career-high 39 points.
He looked as though he might be a commodity for another OHL squad to pick up this season, but a high ankle sprain sidelined Radke for two months earlier in the year.
In the final month, Radke really hit his stride, scoring 14 goals in the final seven weeks of the season.
He'll hope to continue that as he moves on to the American Hockey League, as he's bound for the Rockford IceHogs, Chicago's affiliate, tomorrow.
“I think I can make the next step,” Radke said. “I think my game will translate well to the pro game.
“I've just got to keep doing what I was doing here and use my guys around me to help me out.”
Barrie's overagers were honoured before the game with a framed jersey as their families came on the ice to join in the celebration.
Stefano and Radke, despite being earmarked for different lines, were put out together to start their final OHL contest.
They were easily two of the best Colts in the first period, going hard on each shift and leading the way for the young squad.
Radke himself would get Barrie on the board first, when he took a pass from Zach Magwood and fired a wrister that Kingston starter Jeremy Helvig got a piece of, but not enough, as it dribbled into the net for the Chicago Blackhawks prospect's 23rd goal of the year.
The Frontenacs tied the game before the period was out, as Stephen Desrocher scored on a big rebound that came off of Barrie goalie Christian Propp's pad.
Kingston added to its lead in the second when Sam Harding circled the net and set up Sergei Popov in the slot, and the rookie snapped a well-placed shot past Propp.
Barrie would find itself down 2-1, sending both overagers to potentially what would be their final period in the league.
Things did not go their way in the third, as a couple of lackadaisical defensive plays allowed the Frontenacs to add two more goals relatively quickly.
Barrie would find its footing on a power play, and although it didn't strike there, it cut the Kingston lead to 4-2 shortly after, when Giordano Finoro found Aidan Brown in the slot and he knocked it in.
Stefano picked up an assist moments later as Ben Hawerchuk's slow roller somehow went under Helvig's glove and in for an incredibly weak goal, cutting Barrie's deficit to 4-3.
The magic would run out for the Colts though, and with a couple of minutes left, Jason Robertson stole the puck at the Kingston blue line and went the distance, beating Propp through the five-hole.
Barrie would pull the goalie late and put both Stefano and Radke out on the ice, but they couldn't even make it to the centre line before the Frontenacs scored an empty-netter to end any hopes of extending their careers.
“I wish I was here longer, but things happen for a reason,” Stefano said.
COLTS ON THE SCORE SHEET:
Zach Magwood: 2A
Roy Radke: 1G, 93 career points in 175 career games
Aidan Brown: 1G
Ben Hawerchuk: 1G
Anthony Stefano: 1A, 165 career points in 248 career games
Lucas Chiodo: 1A
Giordano Finoro: 1A
Christian Propp: 16 saves