It should come as no surprise that there is already a lengthy list of current CHL players following in their father’s footsteps.
Of note among those eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft is forward Carter Ashton of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, whose father Brent played over 200 WHL games with the Saskatoon Blades. There is forward Curt Gogol of the Kelowna Rockets, whose father Brent was feisty enough in his 128 WHL games to collect over 900 penalty minutes for four WHL teams. There is 16-year-old forward Curtis Hamilton of the Saskatoon Blades, eligible in 2010, whose father Bruce also played over 200 WHL games for the Blades and now owns and operates the Rockets.
Among defensemen, there is Tyson Barrie of the Rockets, whose father Len played 344 WHL games and won the scoring title in the 1989-90 season with 185 points in 70 games. In the elder Barrie’s case, his professional career would last 14 seasons and he is now a co-owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
An offensively skilled defenseman
As far as Tyson Barrie is concerned, evidence of his father’s offensive prowess exists every time he takes to the ice these days.
“I think that was really where it all started for me, playing at Juan de Fuca and having my dad coaching me,” Barrie said when asked about his minor hockey days on Vancouver Island. “I was never the best player when I played minor hockey, but growing up with my dad coaching me in bantam and midget, I feel like that was the time when I really came into my own and realized the kind of hockey player I could become.”
Barrie, a native of Victoria, B.C., is candid about his father and the impact Len has had on his desire to become an NHLer. The relationship between a player and his father/coach can be tenuous at times, but Tyson is clearly thankful for his father’s input.
“With my dad, the biggest thing was that he always pushed me to work my hardest off the ice,” Barrie said. “On the ice, he’d let me know if I was doing something well, but he’d also let me know if I wasn’t. I think he pushed me harder than everyone else on those teams to make me better. Away from the rink, it was good to be able to talk to him about things because he’s been there and has played in the NHL.”
For his part, Len Barrie admits he felt that Tyson had some serious work to do to even earn an opportunity in junior hockey.
“When I retired from playing, the group of kids in Victoria were all about 11 or 12 years old,” Len said. “And sure, Tyson certainly wasn’t a star player. We really worked hard with the kids on skill development. Passing the puck was really our main focus. The kids were a competitive bunch and they really pushed each other, whether it was hockey or lacrosse or any other sports.”
Len Barrie also acknowledged the fellow coaches who worked with Tyson and his teammates. He says they were never a systems-type group of coaches, but they did emphasize an offensive brand of hockey, preferring to win games 8-7 rather than 2-1. During those developmental seasons in bantam and midget hockey, Tyson was well aware he was being watched closely, especially when tournament play resulted in travel through the Okanagan Valley.
The route to Kelowna
“Coming into Kelowna when I was younger, Kelowna had my rights,” Barrie said. “It was a little more nerve-racking at times compared to playing back home in Victoria because I knew that Lorne Frey (Rockets’ Director of Player Personnel) was likely to be watching me, or maybe it would be one of the Rockets coaching staff. But, what was pretty cool about it was the opportunity to get to know the coaching staff prior to coming here as a player.”
Barrie, now 5’9 and 165 pounds, became a member of the Kelowna Rockets when he was selected in the first round, 18th overall, at the 2006 WHL Bantam Draft, which was indeed a lucrative event for the organization. The current roster includes five other players drafted that day by the organization, including Gogol, Colin Bowman, Jesse Paradis, Aaron Borejko and Kyle Verdino. However, to date, it has been Barrie who has had the most telling impact.
In an odd scheduling quirk, Barrie played a total of seven games with the Rockets during the middle of the 2006-07 season as a 15-year-old. The league maximum is five games, however, the Rockets asked for and received permission from the WHL to use Barrie more extensively as its roster had been significantly depleted by a number of players who were representing their home provinces at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse. The brief apprenticeship served to whet Barrie’s appetite heading into his first full season with the Rockets.
“It was certainly a big step up,” Barrie said, when asked about the transition from major midget hockey. “I’d played those seven games as a 15-year-old, so that helped because it gave me a real good idea about what I had to do over the following summer to be ready.”
A successful rookie season
During his rookie campaign in Kelowna, Barrie distinguished himself immediately as an offensive-minded defenseman. In fact, he became a key member of the power-play unit as a 16-year-old, accomplishing this among a blueline brigade that included the likes of Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers and Tysen Dowzak. All three have signed NHL contracts. Myers and Dowzak remain in Kelowna while Schenn currently plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I feel like I had a successful rookie year and want to carry that forward this season,” Barrie said when reminded of his 43-point effort over the course of 64 regular season games. “Sure, it took me a few games to really get into it, but my partner was Luke Schenn, and I mean, look where he is now, eh?
“It says huge things about the Rockets’ organization and the type of players they are developing. For me, I knew if I was going to take a chance offensively that might not necessarily work out, Luke was back there and he could handle odd-man rushes better than most guys in the league.”
For certain, Barrie has been exposed to some high-end talent over the years, both on and off the ice. In Kelowna, Barrie spent time with former Rockets Shea Weber (NAS) and Josh Gorges (MON) during his early training camps. Due in part to his father’s business ventures, which includes partial ownership of the Lightning, Barrie has also been able to connect with a number of NHLers including Ryan Smyth, Mike Vernon and Greg Adams. Barrie, a well-spoken and mature youngster, recognizes his good fortune.
“I’ve been able to talk with some good guys about a lot of the things that can really help me to develop my game,” he said. “I’ve been able to meet other guys with NHL experience, so it has all been very helpful.”
Len Barrie recognizes these benefits as well, yet he readily defers to his son’s work ethic. Both father and son see the game and the business as one.
“How hard Tyson has worked,” Len said, “that is what I’m most proud of. Tyson has really taken his skating to another level. As a player, I didn’t really start working out until I was about 24, but Tyson started at 14. If you want to be a player in this day and age, just to make it to junior, you have to treat it as a profession. It’s a business. These kids have agents and personal trainers at 14.”
They are also thankful for the opportunity the Kelowna Rockets have provided.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Barrie said. “A lot of teams passed on Tyson in the bantam draft, maybe because they figured I’d be a problem parent (laughs). But Bruce Hamilton runs a first-class organization and then last year Luke Schenn really helped Tyson by taking him under his wing.”
Striving to become a complete player
As he develops in the WHL, Tyson Barrie understands the desire of professional scouts to see him become a more complete player. The Rockets coaching staff also has high expectations, something Barrie is comfortable with. He knows he’ll be called upon to play a bigger role on special team units as well.
So far this season, the offense has been apparent. Through 23 games, Barrie has scored four goals and added 19 assists. In even-strength situations, he is generally paired with Dowzak. On the power-play unit, it’s usually Barrie and Myers on the point, behind a potent group of forwards that includes 2008 NHL draftees Colin Long, Jamie Benn, Cody Almond and Brandon McMillan.
“This year I’ve found that I have to be more responsible defensively,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been working on the most. I just have to hope that the offensive side just continues to come.
“On the power play, I think it’s kind of the same as last year, running things from the back end. But I’m taking on a bigger role this year on the penalty kill and having the coaches show confidence in me by putting me on the ice during the last minute of each period. If they have confidence in me, hopefully the scouts will recognize that as well.”
Indeed, NHL scouts have been taking notice of the young Barrie’s skill set.
“Tyson reminds me a lot of Scott Glennie (Brandon Wheat Kings),” said a Detroit Red Wings scout. “He’s a little cocky and he wants the puck all the time. He doesn’t think twice about taking off with the puck and he has the skating ability to do it.
“He has to pick his spots and that comes with experience. But he’s only 17, yet he has that inner confidence.”
Barrie is ranked 76th among skaters by International Scouting Service in their November issue.
Away from the rink, Barrie suggests he doesn’t have any super serious, time-consuming interests or hobbies. His father has spearheaded the development of the Bear Mountain community and resort near Victoria, B.C., which includes a pair of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses. However, Tyson admits he hasn’t yet been bitten by the golf bug.
“Surprisingly, I don’t really like playing golf,” he said. “I love basketball and wakeboarding, but sometimes it’s just good to be able to hang out. I guess there aren’t too many secrets for me.
“I want to play professional hockey, so the game is kind of a 12-month commitment. I think it has to be these days. I look at it this way: if I’m not doing it, someone else is.”