*Written by defenceman Nathan Allensen in collaboration with Josh Kim*
I’ll be honest. When I came here, it was weird. I didn’t know too much about Barrie, the city, or too much about the Colts. Growing up, I was a big Kitchener Rangers fan because they were right down the road and we had season tickets. I knew the Barrie Colts were a good team in the OHL but I didn’t know too much about them beyond that. They were just a good hockey team.
When I was drafted, I got to come here and I was lucky enough to check out the rink and a couple of billet houses. I was one of the lucky ones in the sense that I got to pick my billets. It’s been five years after the draft process and I haven’t looked back.
Moving to a new city, was a lot, especially for a 16-year-old. But everyone in this organization, my teammates, my billets, made the transition that much easier. I know people normally save these things for the end of a story but I really can’t thank my family, my friends and my billets enough for the help they’ve given me throughout the years, especially in the first couple of months being away from home. I got a little homesick but there were always great people near me to help me through the process.
My billets had a huge role in making me feel at home in Barrie. With Mike and Tara as parents, with Jake and Kennedy as siblings, I refer to them as my second family. I see them as much as my real family. For them to take me in as a 16-year-old, not knowing too much about me, it’s pretty crazy how it all worked out.
They’ve done so much for me off the ice, the little things that you don’t really think of: laundry, cooking pre-game meals, changing my winter tires, even taking me to the drive test centre to get my G2 driver’s license. It’s just crazy when you think of it, random people are letting you into their house, but five years later they’re my second family. Being with the Colts for all five years of junior hockey, but also being with my billets for those five years, that’s something that’s incredibly special to me and I don’t take that for granted. They’re great people and I can’t say enough good things about them.
I laugh about some of the players today, with younger guys tending to go home almost every weekend. But I can’t remember ever going home that often. I did go home every couple of weeks because nothing compares to your own bed or home cooking or seeing your friends and family, but I love being around my team and in Barrie. My billets made it feel like home and that kept me here a lot.
My entire rookie season was a big eye-opener. One of the biggest realizations that I had when I came to Barrie was that minor hockey is kind of a joke to some extent compared to the OHL. It’s a business here and every game, practice, and workout matters. You see how serious guys take it. It’s just that much better hockey.
Coming in under a hockey hall of fame coach in Dale Hawerchuk was a blessing in itself. He gave me a chance to play in this league and he taught me a lot that I know today. Having the chance to play with guys like Andrei Svechnikov, Aaron Luchuk, Justin Murray, TJ Fergus, Tyler Tucker, Joey Keane and Ryan Suzuki, was even better, and I was lucky enough that we also had a great team in my first year.
Back then, Sadlon Arena was called the Barrie Molson Centre, and I still remember what those days were like. I still remember scoring on my very first shift in the OHL, which will forever be one of the best moments from my time in Barrie.
The biggest difference heading into my second season was confidence. The more games and reps you get at a certain level, the more confidence you gain. I worked hard in the summer after my first year because I knew how to train around things in the OHL, I had a better idea of what to expect heading in. I had grown even more comfortable in Barrie and that was a big part of my preparation during the offseason.
As I progressed through my OHL career, my overall expectations changed. I began to see an increased role as the years went on, and that helped shape my own personal goals when it came to impacting the team.
As I begin to look back at my junior hockey career, there are three main guys that I want to shout out before I depart. Justin Murray, Tyler Tucker, and Joey Keane are three guys that I was fortunate enough to be defence partners with at one point or another. They all took me under their wings while I was a younger player, and I’d like to think I do the same with the younger guys here now in my fifth year.
On that note, as I look back on what my last year has meant in Barrie, I can’t help but hope that I’ve made a similar, lasting impact on some of the younger guys here. A perfect example off the top of my head is the chemistry I’ve developed with Brandt Clarke. Clarkey and I, we’ve been playing together for two to three years now and I think we have something special. I think we have some of the best chemistry in the league and I definitely treat him like my younger brother. We always know where each other is on the ice and we’re great teammates off of it.
With the other rookies, notably Grayson Tiller and Beau Akey, it’s more of the same. I just remember being in their shoes. As younger guys, you don’t really talk that much and you might not get as many opportunities as you’d like.
Believe me, I’ve been there.
But the biggest focal point for me is just staying positive. Taking what I went through in my first couple of seasons here in Barrie and just making sure others have similar, positive experiences continues to be a prominent goal for me. And I also try to learn as much as I can from them as well with the game constantly evolving.
Even today, seeing a letter on my jersey, it means the world to me. When you come in as a young kid, you automatically look at the guys that have letters on their jerseys. And I love being a leader. I love speaking up and leading by example. It could be a small letter, sure, but to me, it’s a lot more than that.
Barrie is a special place. I get the chills thinking about it. You spend five years here in junior hockey, it’s just special. Not a lot of kids can say they’ve played this long in the OHL and it’s pretty cool that I got to do it here in Barrie. From school visits to charity work, meeting the fans and signing kids gear, being looked up to as a role model is something that I’ll never take for granted and something I’ll never forget.
As I find myself leaving Sadlon Arena for the final time as a player, I’m not too sure about what’s next. Obviously, I want to keep playing hockey at the highest level I can play. I’ve put so much time and effort into it that I just want to keep going. I feel like I’ve gotten better as each year passes and I don’t want to slow down. I want to keep playing up to my potential and hopefully, a pro contract materializes.
But it will always come back to my days in Barrie. Throughout my time in minor hockey, I think I played with the same guys for seven years. But when you come here, the OHL is a different animal. You can snap your fingers one day and one of your teammates is gone just like that. So when I look back at the countless memories I’ve had in this city, and more specifically the different team photos I’ve collected, I think the thing that I look at the most is how much I’ve changed. People often say “you come in as a boy and leave as a man” and now I finally understand what they mean.
I think I’m going to miss the people the most. The billets, my teammates, other players’ billets, the coaches, and the team atmosphere. I love coming to the rink early every day and soaking everything in. Barrie is home for me now, and I think I’ll be back often and I might even buy a house here one day. I’m not sure what the future holds just yet, but knowing the people I have in this city and the legacy I’ve left behind, I’m sure that will all work itself out.