Cayla Barnes’ run of gold medals hit four on Feb. 22, but the latest carries more weight – literally and figuratively.
The former Anaheim Jr. Ducks and Lady Ducks player became the first hockey player from the organization to capture an Olympic gold medal when she was part of the Team USA squad that beat Canada, 3-2, in a compelling matchup that required a shootout to determine the outcome at PyeongChang, South Korea.
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 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.
The impact of having one of its own reach the pinnacle of women’s hockey likely will be substantial for the grass-roots girls game in California, 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. ... I think it will.”
Despite her youth, Barnes was a regular contributor to Team USA at the Games, playing in all five games and compiling 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 in each of the past two years.
She had attended a Women’s National Team tryout camp but was sent home last year. She thought that was that and 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, Barnes said.
“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 Red, White and Blue at the Olympics.
Barnes, who was a three-time USA Today Prep All-American for her work at New Hampton Prep School in New Hampshire, said once it set in that she had made the Olympic team she thought 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.”
- Chris Bayee