Player of the year Barnes set to lead USA charge
Yes, The Great One, The Golden Seals and The Mighty Ducks had plenty of time to lay the groundwork in the Golden State before Cayla was born in 1999.
Born to two Los Angeles police officers, Cayla and her four older brothers were raised in Corona located roughly an hour east of the Southern California metropolis.
Like any other kid, Barnes wanted to be like her older siblings – wanting to emulate their every move.
In her neighbourhood, that meant playing hockey, in any form. For her brothers, Matt and Aaron, there was roller hockey and then there was ice hockey.
So Cayla followed suit. Roller hockey then ice hockey.
The defenceman starred at rinks in and around SoCal until her eighth grade year when she was forced to make the biggest decision of her life.
“I didn’t want to play boys hockey anymore and knew I needed to pursue playing full-time with girls so I could further my hockey career,” said Barnes.
To do so, she played in a prep showcase on the East Coast where she was approached by coach Craig Churchill of New Hampton Prep School about playing hockey.
Barnes says Churchill approached her after the tryout and convinced to check the school out and see if it would be a good fit.
Barnes took an official visit there and instantly fell in love – she was ready to further her hockey career 3,000 miles away from home in New Hampshire.
Barnes was an instant hit on campus, so much so that by her sophomore year Coach Churchill publicly said, “Cayla is the best 15 year-old in the world.” For her talents, Banes garnered attention from USA Hockey for the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship and she joined the team as its youngest member.
Barnes delighted in the experience, but remembers the anxiety.
“I was very nervous at first, but the older girls took me in and told me I was there for a reason,” says Barnes. “As the tournament went on, my confidence went up. It pushed me to be a better player.”
Barnes appeared in all five games that year, but despite being held off the score sheet, she received the reward she sought.
Team USA ended Canada’s streak of three straight titles before venturing to St. Catharines last year looking for a repeat performance.
Barnes, a bit more seasoned, played a larger role on last year’s team, posting six assists in five games, but none was more pivotal than the last helper she provided.
Midway through the overtime period of the gold medal game, Barnes rifled a shot from the blue-line leaving a juicy rebound for the opportunistic Natalie Snodgrass buried the puck and Canada in the process.
“The coach put me out in overtime to simply do what I do on every shift,” Barnes explained. “It was such an incredible feeling to win gold the way we did after being down by two goals in the game.”
Beyond the gold medal, it ended up being a huge year for Barnes personally. During the 2015-2016 season at New Hampton School, Cayla led the Huskies to the Lakes Region League title and the Number 6 seed in the prestigious Division I New England Prep tournament. Though New Hampton lost in the quarterfinals, Barnes earned All-New England first team honours.
Following the season, Barnes was named the ALL-USA Today high school player of the year in 2016. It’s an honour she’ll never forget.
That was an incredible feeling and a big honour, especially as a junior,” Barnes said with a smile. “It’s a tribute to my teammates and a reflection of how New Hampton has moulded me.”
For Barnes, success kept breeding success, and this time it was the senior women’s team calling. They invited her to train with the squad prior to the Four Nations tournament and then see game action against Canada during the team’s 2016 Winter Camp.
Not only was it a sign of things to come for the elite defenseman, but also another learning lesson that forced her to grow.
“You could instantly see the difference in pace and play, Barnes explained. “I could definitely feel it.”
“I got to see how Olympians and national team players conduct themselves. That’s the next level and what I’m shooting for.”
Barnes turned 18 today, the first day of the tournament, and now finds herself as the oldest member of this year’s team and team captain. According to Johnson, Barnes’ return for a third World Championship will be a huge deal for the Americans.
“Cayla displayed leadership tendencies in previous years and became a leader over the last few seasons. She carries herself well and has demonstrated the essential characteristics we look for from the veterans of this group.”
The United States begins its title defence against Russia on Saturday before playing Sweden on Sunday. Group A play will culminate on Tuesday with a matchup of last year’s gold medal match as the Americans take on bitter rival Canada.
In a rare show of emotion, Barnes exclaimed, “We’re looking forward to Canada. It’s always great to beat Canada on home ice and silence the crowd.”
The U.S. outscored those three opponents 17-3 in last year’s tournament, including the gold medal game, but Barnes said the 2017 team isn’t taking anything for granted in pursuit of a three-peat.
Last year is in the past,” Barnes said earnestly. “We think of them as brand new opponents and we never know what they’re going to bring to the table.”
This roster features 11 players who helped the 2016 U.S. Women's National Under-18 Team earn a gold medal at the IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship in St. Catharines, Ontario.
When the tournament wraps, Barnes will head back to New Hampshire and rejoin her high school team that’s ranked No. 2 in New England after losing just one game all season.
She’s committed to playing for Boston College in the fall, but whether or not she shows up to Chestnut Hill with a third piece of gold hardware remains to be seen.
Back to Overview