The Leader of Traverse City

By Jessica Haskin

The Traverse City Enforcers are making a drive for the playoffs, and with their win on Sunday the 24th they are in the last playoff seed, three points ahead of the Downriver Bombers. What all teams needis a player to lead them into and through the playoffs. They need a player who is willing to lead by example and give everything he has to win. Do the Enforcers have such a player in their captain, Matt Barnhardt?

The 22-year-old Barnhardt, is on the small side for hockey standards at 5-foot-11, 175 lbs. He’s a full-blooded Mohawk Indian from the small town of Tyendinaga, an Indian reservation in Ontario where he grew up with his siblings.

“I’ve got a younger sister who’s in grade nine and I’ve got a older brother who’s twenty-six? I don’t know… I haven’t been home in five years. Just been moving around playing hockey, baseball, all sorts of stuff. Busy man.”

Yes, he is a busy man, besides playing Junior A hockey he holds a job.

“Yeah, I’m working at American Eagle. I did a year of college, graphic design. It was when I played last season for Rayside (Rayside Balfour Sabrecats of the NOJHA), they paid for my college so it’s something.”

College was the one thing he might have done different in his hockey career.

“I don’t know if I would have changed it but I think about it every now and then. I had two full scholarships for division 1 to go to Clarkson or St. Lawrence and I was picking between them. Then the OHL called me and said I was going to get drafted to Sudbury and where I grow up OHL is huge. I look back on it; I could have used that degree the way I am now, something to fall back on. That’s the decision I probably would have changed.

The way he is now is referring to a knee injury he suffered just eleven games into the season. The knee is still bothering him, “Big time! I tore all the meniscus (the cartilage disk between the joints) in there.

“ I’m taking a lot of painkillers. I don’t know if that’s a good thing but it settled the pain down. I’ll have my surgery in May. I was supposed to have my surgery at Christmas time, but that would have put me out for the rest of the year, so we moved it back to May. Lou (Franceschetti, the Enforcers coach) was pretty happy about that.”

I’m quite sure that Lou, the team, and Enforcers fans are all happy about that decision as Barnhardt has scored 10 goals and assisted on 18 more playing with the injured knee.

Being the captain of the team now is an honor but first he had to be a student and learn.

“The most important thing, I’d have to say (is) the sportsmanship of the game. There’s a lot of stick work. There’s no need for it. It doesn’t accomplish nothing. And the respect for the players that are in it. What I learned from the OHL, you’ve got your older guys then you’ve got your younger guys; and the older guys. They run the show. They already know what to do and you just learn real quick to respect them. It makes the game go by a lot easier.”

The biggest change of his career came in his second season of playing in the OHL. “Before that I was just playing with my heart out just going crazy, I was all over the place. My second year in the O I met a guy, his name is Ken McKenzie. He was the assistant coach and me and him hit it off and he helped me with my game big time. He’s the guy who coached Rayside the next year,
and I just followed him around. He’s the biggest influence in my life… with hockey.”

The advice Barnhardt finds most valuable to pass onto young hockey players who wish to go on to become a professional player is this. “If they’re going to take hockey this far, as far as I’ve taken it you’ve got to like the game. You can’t just go out there and play ‘cause say your Dad played or somebody’s making you play or just play for fun, pick up hockey or something. But for kids that want to and are serious about hockey all you got to worry about is practice, practice, practice. You’ll go really far if you just try hard.”

Barnhardt has tried hard and practiced a lot hopefully it will pay off next year when he tries out with the Flint Generals of the UHL and if all goes well gets his first professional contract.