By BOB YORK
Cayla Barnes can finally exhale. After playing on a team that won three straight world championships, she’s realized yet another dream as a hockey player – playing on a team that won a New England championship.
Barnes, who became the only player to ever win three consecutive International Ice Hockey Federation gold medals earlier this year when the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team captured its third straight world title, finally grabbed a much more elusive gold medal in March. In what would be her final try in her final game with the New Hampton School girls hockey team, Barnes helped the Huskies hoist the New England Prep School Athletic Council Division I championship trophy following a 3-1 win over Kent School.
“It was a very special moment,” Barnes said following her latest trophy presentation ceremony. “It’s hard to compare the two tournaments,” she added, referencing that one tournament took place on a world stage (Czech Republic), while the other enjoyed a quaint New England setting near Boston (Phillips Andover Academy), “but they both mean the same to me.”
“This one did prove particularly sweet, though” Barnes quickly added of the New England title, as she headed back to her New Hampton, N.H., campus with the tourney’s Most Valuable Player trophy and a second straight New England Player of the Year award firmly in hand. “I’ve been attending New Hampton School for four years and I’ve loved every minute I’ve been here.
“I owe so much to this school,” added Barnes. “I’ve prospered greatly here as a student … as an athlete … as a member of the community. I feel I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to play with the greatest teammates you could ever imagine … teammates who will remain close to me long after I graduate.
“To be able to end your prep school career by winning a New England title and to be able to celebrate it with such outstanding teammates and coaches after winning something we all worked so hard for is simply a dream come true for all of us.”
Following her four years with the Huskies, Barnes, who has committed to playing at Boston College, would undoubtedly be considered one of the truly elite to have ever played the game at New Hampton – or anywhere else in New England. Since making the cross-country trek from her home in Los Angeles as a highly touted freshman, Barnes has played a hefty role in lifting the program into the elite status of Division I prep schools throughout the Northeast.
“Let me say that everyone associated with the New Hampton School community feels very fortunate that Cayla and her family decided that this school was the best fit for her,” said Husky coach Craig Churchill, “and I don’t say that just because of what she has meant to our hockey program.
“Cayla has been the consummate student/athlete,” added Churchill. “She has achieved honors status in the classroom and has been an outstanding citizen, spending much time helping others not only on campus, but throughout the New Hampton community as well. And although hockey is her number-one sport, she also plays soccer and lacrosse … and plays them quite well I might add.”
The four-time Division I NEPSAC all-star defenseman has been a catalyst behind the 89-25-1 record the Husky hockey program has chalked up during that span, including a 30-3-1 showing this season. Despite playing back on the blue line, her offensive skills still contributed mightily to the win count. Throughout her four years at New Hampton, Barnes registered 154 points on 57 goals and 97 assists, including 44 points this season on 14 goals and 30 assists.
“In my opinion, what makes Cayla such an outstanding hockey player is her determination,” said Churchill. “She will accept nothing but her best effort … every practice … every game. You then combine that determination with the fact that she’s such an outstanding skater and you have the ingredients for a terrific hockey player.
“As a defenseman, Cayla’s extremely adept at moving the puck out of her own zone,” added the Husky mentor. “She has outstanding awareness of what’s going on around her … she’s able to see things on the ice that other players simply don’t see. It enables her to anticipate one play ahead and in my opinion, that’s the big reason why she put up nearly 100 assists during her career at New Hampton.”
Churchill isn’t the only hockey coach you will find extolling Barnes’s virtues both on the ice, and off it. Joel Johnson, an assistant for the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team and head coach of the U.S. Women’s National U-18 Team, is more than happy to chime in.
“I feel very fortunate to have coached Cayla for the last three years on the international level,” said Johnson. “Age-wise, she made the Under-18 team a year early, as a 15-year-old, which is extremely rare. She was good when she got here and just continued to get better. In fact, to be honest, our biggest worry concerning Cayla was finding ways of continually challenging her.
“She was never the biggest, strongest or fastest player, but she was always the smartest,” added Johnson of Barnes, who was named winner of the U-18 Directorate Award the past two years, which is presented to the Best Defenseman in the world tourney. “She has a tremendous hockey sense and that can make up for a lot of other things … such as size, strength and speed.”
During this season’s NEPSAC tourney, the fourth-seeded Huskies made their way to the gold-medal tier of the podium by trimming fifth-ranked St. Paul’s School in overtime, 2-1, in the quarterfinal round. New Hampton then knocked off top-seeded Loomis Chaffee, 3-2, in the semifinal round before besting third-ranked Kent in the title tilt, 3-1. Of the eight goals the Huskies scored during the tourney, Barnes assisted on five of them.
Adding to the sheen of that MVP plaque is the fact that all five goals Barnes drew assists on either tied a game or proved to be a game winner. In the final, Barnes set up fellow defenseman Lauren DeBlois for the title-clinching tally, breaking a 1-1 tie with just 28 seconds remaining in regulation play. McKenzie Haberl then took a pass from Barnes and settled the matter once and for all with an open-net goal with 10 seconds remaining.
New Hampton’s semifinal-round win over Loomis was closely contested as well. This time, the Huskies settled the score with Loomis – which bumped them from last winter’s tourney – with only 40 ticks of the clock left in the third period. Taylor Curtis registered the game winner when she knocked in a rebound off a Barnes shot. Barnes had previously assisted on a Kelly Matthews goal midway through the final frame that gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead. Loomis forced New Hampton’s last-minute heroics, however, when it tied the game with just 1:37 remaining.
Leadership is another quality that Barnes exhibits both on the ice and away from it. At New Hampton, she was voted captain of the hockey team as both a junior and senior and was elected captain of the Husky soccer and lacrosse teams her senior year as well. She also served as captain of the U-18 squad this winter.
“There was never a doubt that Cayla was going to be my captain for this year’s tournament,” said Johnson, “and it wasn’t because she was coming back for her third year with the team. The reason why I wanted her as our captain was because she has outstanding character and has a knack of connecting with her teammates … both on the ice and away from it that’s pretty unique.”
“In the three years I’ve been associated with Cayla, I’ve come to know that every time she climbs over the boards she constantly plays at a high level,” added Johnson, “and whenever she’s on the ice, I’ve become accustomed to watching her do things very few other hockey players can do. What’s more, the coaching staff and every one of her teammates has developed total confidence in her ability … if there’s a key moment in the game when we need her to make a big play for us, we know she’ll make it.”
Although Barnes has committed her collegiate career to Boston College, her playing with the Eagles next winter is still in a state of flux. There’s a chance her debut at BC could be delayed a year if she should make the 2018 U.S. Women’s Olympic Team.
“I have no idea where Cayla will land next year,” said Johnson, in reference to BC or the Olympic team. “I know the Olympic squad has a number of older, experienced players returning, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I do know that with Cayla’s talent, she’ll eventually play with both teams … it’s just a question of which team she’ll play for first.”