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Good as gold: Barnes helps Team USA to Olympic glory

 

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Four gold medals and counting.

The most recent one, however, carries the most weight for Cayla Barnes, who won it on Feb. 22 with Team USA at the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

“It’s incredible, something I’ll never forget,” she said. “It was such a cool experience, not only for us, but for everyone who watched.”

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The former Anaheim Jr. Ducks, Lady Ducks, L.A. Jr. Kings and L.A. Selects player took a regular shift on defense and earned some power-play time for the Team USA squad that beat Canada 3-2 in a compelling matchup that required a shootout to determine the outcome.

“There were a lot of emotions (during the gold-medal game),” said the Eastvale native. “The building was going crazy. Even when Canada scored twice to go ahead 2-1, we remained positive. The team really stuck together and going into overtime, everyone was loose, like, ‘We got this.’”

After four consecutive losses to Canada in Olympic gold-medal games, how was that possible?

“Everyone brought a bit to the table to contribute to that confidence,” Barnes said. “Our leaders did an incredible job. Everyone felt calm and had faith in each other.”

It was the first gold for the U.S. women since the 1998 Games, when Angela Ruggeiro, then 18 and now a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and the International Olympic Committee, became the first California-born and –trained woman (Panorama City) to win an Olympic gold medal.

Just as Ruggeiro was a generation ago, Barnes, at 19, was the youngest member of Team USA. The comparisons don’t end there. Both are defensemen. And both will end up playing their college hockey in Boston – Ruggeiro starred at Harvard, and Barnes will resume her career at Boston College next season.

Cayla Barnes Gold MedalistThe impact of having a California-developed player reach the pinnacle of women’s hockey likely will be substantial for the grass-roots girls game, Lady Ducks program director and coach Kathy McGarrigle said.

“Every four years, the stage of the Winter Olympics really puts a spotlight on women’s hockey, but, much like in 1998, winning a gold medal and a California-grown player being on the team will hopefully have an even greater impact,” McGarrigle said.

“Cayla has been a standout from an early age and it has been an amazing feeling to be a small part of her journey. I hope Team USA’s gold medal inspires many new young players in the West to get started, and I think it will.”

Barnes played in all five games and compiled a cumulative plus-3 rating. She averaged nearly 15 minutes of ice time per game.

Barnes’ journey to this most recent gold came after she became the first three-time gold medalist at the Women’s Under-18 World Championships last year. She was named the tournament’s Top Defenseman the past two years.

She attended a U.S. Women’s National Team tryout camp, but was sent home last year. She then enrolled at Boston College, where she actually played five games before her country called her back to the team’s training site in Tampa, Fla., in October.

Even then, a spot on the Olympic team wasn’t assured.

“I thought I could be considered some day, but you never know,” she said earlier this year. “I wasn’t expecting it this early. I thought I’d go through college and have a good shot in 2022.

“It was an exciting turn of events.”

And one that allowed her to join Ruggeiro (1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010) and Huntington Beach’s Chanda Gunn (2006) as California natives to represent the U.S. at the Olympics.

Barnes and her teammates returned to a hero’s welcome at various stops across the United States, starting in Los Angeles.

“They’re all pretty special memories,” she said. “Going on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, dropping the puck at an L.A. Kings game, that was a really good stop.”

Barnes’ next stop includes training and spending time with her family, as well as cheering on Boston College in the women’s NCAA tournament.

— Chris Bayee

(March 20, 2018)