Everyone is entitled to change their mind, even USA Hockey.
And that’s just what the hockey’s governing body in the United States did in late October when it added Californian Cayla Barnes to the U.S. Women’s National Team roster, which is training in suburban Tampa, Fla., for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“I got a call mid-week (during the last week of October) from Reagan (Carey, USA Hockey’s director of women’s hockey),” Barnes said. “She said, ‘We want you on the Women’s National Team.
“Obviously I was going to take this opportunity.
The turn was the latest in what has been a dynamic year for the 18-year-old from Corona.
In December, she skated with the Women’s National Team for exhibitions against Canada. In January, she helped Team USA win the Under-18 Women’s World Championship for the third consecutive year and became the only U.S. player ever to win three gold medals at the event. In the process she was selected the tournament’s best defenseman for the second time in a row.
In March, she helped New Hampton Prep School win its first ever New England Girls Prep D1 title. She was in the tryout camp for the National Team this spring but was cut. And this fall she began her collegiate career, playing five games for Boston College before getting the call from USA Hockey. So she withdrew from school – she’ll restart next fall – and moved to Florida in just a few days.
“It’s a big transition, but a pretty quick transition,” Barnes said. “I don’t have a car. The girls have been super helpful taking me places.”
It’s not as if Barnes, who played youth hockey for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, the Lady Ducks, the LA Selects and the LA Jr. Kings, comes into the team cold. She is rooming with fellow Californian Annie Pankowski, who is delaying her senior year at Wisconsin in order to participate in the Olympics. Two of her Boston College teammates, as well as two former Eagles, are on the National Team as well.
“I’ve met everyone through camps – Meghan Duggan and the Lamoureux sisters helped with the U18s – so it wasn’t awkward,” Barnes added.
It’s not a transition without its challenges. For one, she’s jumping into training mid-stream. For another, she’s easily the youngest player on the roster. The transition she described is not unlike what young men experience when going from college or junior to the pros.
“I’m stepping into an environment where they’ve here two and a half months, so I have a lot to do to get up to speed,” Barnes said. “It is a step up. I’m playing against women who are so strong, so fit and so focused and mature.
“College – especially my coaches at Boston College – prepared me pretty well, but there is a big difference in speed and strength. They play so hard at this level.”
Still, Barnes wouldn’t be where she is if it wasn’t warranted, Carey said.
“Cayla is a poised, young defenseman, and we are looking forward to her joining the Women’s National Team as we prepare for the upcoming 2017 Four Nations Cup,” said Carey, who is also the general manager of the National and Olympic teams. “Cayla has proven to be an impact player for Team USA at the Under-18 level, and we expect her skill, vision and energy will serve her well at the National Team level.”
Barnes’ role has yet to be defined, and she’s fine with that.
“I’m not sure what they have in mind; how much I’ll play or not play,” she said. “Either way I’m good with whatever.”
Still, she and Pankowski have the opportunity to represent the United States at the Olympics.
“It doesn’t get any better,” Barnes said.
-- By Chris Bayee