Cayla Barnes continues to work ahead of schedule.
The former Anaheim Jr. Ducks and Lady Ducks player became the third California-born and –trained female to be selected to a U.S. Women’s Olympic team earlier this month.
Barnes, who is 18 and will be the youngest player on Team USA, was as surprised as anyone at how quickly a chance to play in the Olympics came together for her.
“I thought I could be considered someday but you never know,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it this early. I thought I’d go through college and have a good shot in 2022.”
Instead, she joins Angela Ruggeiro (1998, 2002, 2006 and 201) and Huntington Beach’s Chanda Gunn (2006) as California natives to represent the Red, White and Blue at the Olympics.
“It was an exciting turn of events,” Barnes said.
Along the way, she’s let neither age, nor height (at 5-foot-1 she’s also the shortest player on the women’s roster), nor where she’s from stand in the way of building an impressive playing resume.
Barnes became the first three-time gold medalist at the Women’s Under-18 World Championships last year, and she was named the tournament’s top defenseman in each of the past two year
She was invited to the Women’s National Team training camp earlier in 2017, along with former Lady Ducks standout Annie Pankowski, but was sent home.
Barnes, who was a three-time USA Today Prep All-American for her work at New Hampton Prep School in New Hampshire, assumed her next step would be playing college hockey at Boston College. She enrolled and played five games for the Eagles before Reagan Carey, USA Hockey’s director of women’s hockey, reached out to her in October.
Carey asked Barnes to join the national team, which was training in Florida before the Four Nations Cup in November. Even at that point it wasn’t a given she would make the Olympic team.
She didn’t know for sure until USA Hockey officials met individually with the women who didn’t make the team before they met with the 23 who did collectively before the Jan. 1 announcement.
“It was bittersweet to see some teammates let go,” Barnes said. “But it’s been a dream of mine since I was little. It’s a bit overwhelming but also exciting for my family and me.”
She said her mom and an aunt will go to PyeongChang, South Korea, early next month for the Games.
Once the reality of making the Women’s Olympic team set in, Barnes took time to think about not only where she’s come from but where hockey – and girls hockey in particular – is headed in California.
“I reflect on it a lot,” she said. “I had a lot of great, impactful coaches. There are a lot of other players from the state doing great things and hockey is continuing to grow. I hope for girls and boys that this isn’t such a rare thing in the future.”
Two other Californians, including an Orange County native, were selected to U.S. Olympic teams as well.
Jonathon Blum of Ladera Ranch was named to the Men’s team, while Ralph DeQuebec was chosen for the Paralympic team.
Blum, 29, is the first California-born and –trained player to be selected in the first round of an NHL Entry Draft (23rd overall by Nashville in 2007). He’s playing for Sochi, Russia, in the Kontinental Hockey League – this third season in that league – after six seasons split between the NHL (110 games) and the American Hockey League.
-- Chris Bayee