The Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) have a long and storied history of producing and developing top-tier NHL talent. Their “barn” which is now called Sadlon Arena, has seen artistry don the infamous Colts crest.
Passion for hockey runs deep in Barrie, Ontario, located about an hour’s drive from the city of Toronto, where locals flock each and every week during the season to support their beloved junior hockey franchise. Here’s a look at four former Colts to see where they are now in the ever-changing hockey landscape.
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers, who kicks off the list, is one of the most dominant two-way defensemen in the NHL. Known for his size, skill, hockey sense, and ability to play the body, Ekblad often flies under the radar plying his trade in Sunrise, Florida, but don’t let the lack of exposure fool you – he’s the real deal.
Selected first overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Ekblad was fresh off a season that saw him tally 23 goals and 53 points in 58 games for the Colts. The Windsor, Ontario native ranks sixth all-time in points in Colts franchise history, with 116 points in 175 games. As a member of the Panthers, he has emerged as a leader and dons the “A” as an alternate captain. He’ll be on Team Canada’s radar for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
Sheldon Keefe, Head Coach, Toronto Maple Leafs
Next up is Sheldon Keefe, who has his footprints all over the OHL, American Hockey League (AHL), and now the NHL, as the head coach of one of the league’s most historic and revered franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Born and raised in Brampton, Ontario, Keefe scraped and clawed his way to the NHL. He played junior hockey for both the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, and the Colts before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999.
Midway through the 1998-99 campaign, Keefe was traded from the Majors to the Colts, where he finished his junior career. He tallied 42 points in 28 games in his first season with the team and followed that up with a whopping 121-point season, including 48 goals in 1999-2000. In just a season and a half, he totalled 162 points with the Colts, good for 17th all-time amongst the franchise’s forwards.
As a head coach, Keefe brought an impressive resume to Toronto, with stints coaching the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Toronto Marlies, where he won the Calder Cup in 2018. After former Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was dismissed in November, Keefe was brought in to steer the ship and led the team to a 27-15-5 record (.628 points percentage), and a plus-22 goal differential before losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualification round.
He’s known for his fresh, innovative, and flexible style of coaching that focuses on offensive flair, speed, and skill. By all indications, he will have a long career behind the bench in the NHL.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele spent the better part of three seasons (2010-12) with the Colts. During that time, he established himself as one of the most dynamic and electrifying players in Canadian junior hockey, where his size, speed, and raw skill were too much for opposing teams to handle. Throughout his junior career, he scored 84 goals and 217 points in 158 games, a 1.37 points-per-game average, and eighth all-time in franchise history.
He was drafted seventh overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and Scheifele has spent his entire pro career in Winnipeg, as one of the league’s top centers. To date, he has scored 444 points in 514 NHL games and has scored at least 23 goals in five consecutive seasons. This consistency prompted the Jets to award him the “A” as one of their alternate captains.
The Colts not only produce top-tier players, but they also focus on helping players become astute leaders as with Ekblad and Scheifele. Scheifele will be remembered as one of the Colts’ best success stories.
Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes
Russian-born winger Andrei Svechnikov burst onto the scene with the Colts during the 2017-18 campaign and had a season for the ages. After scoring two goals in his OHL debut against the Ottawa 67’s, he continued his rampant scoring pace tallying 40 goals and 72 points in 44 games. His immediate impact and dominance earned him Rookie of the Month honors four times. He also notched 24 multi-point games.
By season’s end, Svechnikov was named OHL Rookie of the Year and was ready for the NHL as the top-ranked prospect among North American skaters in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft according to NHL Central Scouting.
His name was called by the Carolina Hurricanes who had the second-overall pick and he has been one of their star players ever since. As a rookie, he notched 20 goals and 37 points. This season, he took another step in his development, scoring 24 times and tallying 37 assists. He also scored seven points in six playoff games before the Hurricanes were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
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To this day, people are still in awe of Svechnikov’s breathtaking performance with the Colts throughout the 2017-18 campaign. At 20 years of age, the future remains as bright as ever for one of the NHL’s best young players.
Playing the Game the Right Way
The Colts pride themselves on developing talent and ensuring that many of their players go on to successful playing careers in the AHL, NHL, and in many pro leagues in Europe.
This emphasis on well-being, and playing the game the “right way” has worked wonders for many Colts alumni such as those mentioned here and NHLers like Andrew Mangiapane (Calgary Flames), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Kevin Labanc (San Jose Sharks), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues), Rasmus Andersson (Flames), Andreas Athanasiou (Edmonton Oilers) and plenty of others over the years. The Colts do it right and set their youngsters up for success in all facets of life. As a junior club, that’s all you can really ask.
My name is Domenic Lunardo, and I cover all things Blue Jackets here at The Hockey Writers. I am an avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan living in Toronto, with an unmatched passion for the beautiful sport of hockey.