Barrie hosts Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday night
Barrie Colts defenceman Tyler Tucker will be one of the elder statesmen on the back end this season as he enters his second OHL season. The Colts faced the Niagara IceDogs in pre-season action on Thursday night at the Barrie Molson Centre, as the Colts skated to a 4-2 win following a pair of goals from Lucas Chiodo with singles from Zachary Magwood and Jason Willms. The Colts host the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday night at the BMC. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO
The Barrie Colts were a young squad last year.
Their youth movement was apparent nowhere more so than on the blue-line.
Last season, the Colts had games where they dressed six rookie defencemen.
This year, those same players are coming back with a year of knowledge and familiarity under their belts.
“I mean, the year of experience really helps you,” said Colts defenceman Joey Keane. “A lot of guys are excited to get the chance to be in those different situations, or big ones, this year.”
Justin Murray, now a third-year player, remains the veteran of the group.
But with guys like Keane, Tyler Tucker, Christopher Cameron and Kade Landry having now seen what it’s like to play a full season in the Ontario Hockey League, they’re ready to take that next step.
“It was a really good learning experience,” Keane said. “So coming into this year, we’ll all have a year under our belt, and we’re excited to have a good, strong year.”
The lack of insulation on Barrie’s blue-line, particularly after the team dealt away Matt Brassard and Cameron Lizotte, was a double-edged sword.
On one hand, there were many nights where the young defence corps was asked to do far more than most first-year blue-liners in the OHL will do.
But part of that means that they’ve all now had experience in those big-time situations.
“Obviously, I got to play against some pretty quick guys last year and I thought I adjusted to it pretty well,” Tucker said. “The guys coming through this league are full of skill and full of speed, so you’ve got to be at the top of your game against top guys.
“It’s a tough league to adapt to, but if you can do it, things become a lot easier.”
And so things should be a little more manageable for Barrie’s back end this year.
There will still be some new faces there for the Colts, with rookies Victor Hadfield, Mathew Hill and Nathan Allensen being the favourites to nab the remaining blue-line spots.
That trio has seen plenty of preseason action to date and Tucker believes that will make a difference once the regular games roll around.
“Obviously, the speed’s a lot different, it’s a lot faster, but the pre-season games (last year) did help us,” Tucker said. “This year, we’ve got some other young guys coming in and we do have quite a few pre-season games, so I think that will help them as well, help them adapt to the speed.”
One problem the Colts struggled mightily with last year was gaps in their concentration or execution.
That’s a common mistake for a young squad, but having gone through 68 games now might help tighten things up in that regard.
“I think it’s just about being consistent,” Tucker said.
“Coming in as your second year, you’re used to the speed and everything and it’s like second nature now.
“A lot of the guys should be ready to go and we’ll be prepared for this year.”
One thing that last year’s squad got that few other rookie defencemen do was a chance to face the very best in the OHL.
Keane regularly saw action against the top lines of Barrie’s opponents, and that gave him an idea of what he needed to do in order to shut them down.
“Now you know what it’s like to play against that top talent,” Keane said. “You train really hard over the summer and you want to be in top shape coming in from the summer to be able to (handle) those guys.”
With the blue line, from an age standpoint, looking a lot more in line with the rest of the league, the expectations will jump for them as well.
“Definitely, we’re looking at nothing short of playoffs this year,” Keane said. “We’re going to be going for it really strong, so we’re really excited.
“You know the speed and all now, so you are a bit more comfortable, and you also know that you can’t take a day off, either, so you have to bring 100% every time.”
The Colts host the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday night at the Barrie Molson Centre.