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Barrie Colts win Game 7 on the road, bounce Belleville: OHL post-game questions

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Ryan O'Connor and the Colts got all 3 of their goals on redirections or screened shots(OHL Images)

Branch justice, meet Barrie justice. Captain Ryan O'Connor, suspended for a goodly chunk of the post-season, scores the Barrie Colts' late third-period clincher to cinch the Eastern Conference final against Malcolm Subban and the Belleville Bulls. On with the post-game questions.

Barrie 3 Belleville 1 (Colts win Eastern final 4-3) — How did Barrie stay in contact after allowing the game's first 12 shots? The narrative never writes itself, no matter how much one wishes it could. That seemed to be in the offing when the Colts came out cold after what star defenceman Aaron Ekblad called two "almost like a dagger in our heart" losses that necessitated a winner-take-all finale.

It might have been 2-0 or 3-0 for Belleville, whose only goal came from Detroit Red Wings prospect Alan Quine. Barrie kept the margin at one thanks to two astute goal-saving defensive plays by Jonathan Laser, plus goalie Mathias Niederberger (35 saves overall).

"I thought Niederberger was strong early for us," said Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk. "The guys blocked some shots. They had us on our heels early. They drew penalties and we had to kill those. We talked earlier, we had to keep composure in our game. The guys stuck with it."

Bulls coach-GM George Burnett traced the shift to the 12:21 mark, when Bulls defenceman Jake Worrad took an interference penalty. Barrie started to seize the flow of play, taking 10 consecutive shots and levelling when Ekblad's one-timer finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play with Mark Scheifele (2A, +2) and Zach Hall (2A, +2) . (Hall played hurt to get the win in his hometown on his 20th birthday.) That caused some doubt to ripple through the crowd of 3,728.

"It changed on a power play, they had a bunch of shots," Burnett said. "The last seven minutes of the period, we didn't have the puck much. It was not the way we wanted to finish the period after such a great start. The building was energized, 3,800 people in our building tonight, which was pretty special.

"The start we had was maybe the best hockey we played in the series and we just weren't able to sustain it," Burnett added. "Their big guys [Hall and Scheifele] got going, they got a little time and space."

Could the Colts' slow start be explained by being hit with yet another suspension?? If ever a team could conveniently effect the us-against-the-world mien, it's Barrie. Third-year defenceman Jake Dotchin's five-game checking-from-behind ban that was meted out Monday brings the Colts' suspension total up to 19 games.

Captain Ryan O'Connor was playing just his second game, and first in Belleville, since getting a 10-game ban in the first round. O'Connor and the Colts gradually settled in, though. O'Connor's point shot was deflected in by Tyson Fawcett for the go-ahead goal with 8:11 left in the second period. With 5:50 left in the third, O'Connor buried the winner from the centre point after Scheifele beat Anaheim Ducks prospect Joseph Cramarossa on a faceoff.

"I was definitely a bit nervous," O'Connor said. "It's my last year and the guys know that and I have to give kudos to them for bearing down and wanting to make it farther for the older guys. They've done everything extra.

"It's tough to see your buddies and friends whose careers in the OHL are done," O'Connor added, referring to graduating Bulls Cramarossa, Jake Cardwell and Stephen Silas. "You just congratulate them on their OHL careers and say, 'keep working, keep pushing hard.' "

Did the goaltending matchup between Niederberger and Malcolm Subban live up to the hype? Over the last three games, Niederberger stopped 100-of-107 shots. Subban stopped 98-of-103. All three Colts markers in Game 7 were either redirected or involved screening in front of the Boston Bruins first-rounder.

Subban will move on having fallen short of the OHL final, which is clearly where the Bulls set the bar after loading up at midseason at Cardwell, Quine and Minnesota Wild prospect Tyler Graovac. Team sport, though.

"He's done it all year long for this club," Burnett said. "Malcolm's been terrific for us. You can't fault him for what's happened."

Who was the series MVP? Zach Hall had 11 points (3G-8A) in six games while playing hurt. That should settle it, especially since the 20-year-old also had an overtime assist on Anthony Camara's Game 3 OT winner.

The major takehome, though, was the continuing maturation of Ekblad as a two-way defenceman. The 17-year-old had four goals, nine points and was plus-6 while logging heavy minutes. Barrie managed to win despite having one of its top-4 defencemen, first O'Connor and now Dotchin, suspended for five of the seven games.

For the record, the Colts raised the Bobby Orr Trophy. The London Knights also raised the Western Conference's Wayne Gretzky Trophy last Friday.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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