January 28, 2023
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Cayla Barnes’ golden career skates home in USA-Canada series

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Cayla Barnes’ athletic talents have taken her far from Eastvale, in Riverside County, where she grew up playing soccer and roller hockey before she followed her older brothers out to the ice and launched a stellar career.

Barnes, 23, has won a gold medal and a silver medal while representing the U.S. in the last two Winter Olympic hockey tournaments. She has played in three women’s world championships, three under-18 women’s world tournaments — where she became the first player to win three consecutive gold medals — and dozens of other elite competitions.

Barnes, who played for the Junior Kings bantam-AAA team, the Junior Ducks and the Lady Ducks before heading East for prep school and Boston College, is a smooth skater and creative puck-handler in the mold of her role model, Hall of Fame member and former Duck Scott Niedermayer. She’s one of the best defensemen in the women’s game, sure to be a mainstay of U.S. national and Olympic teams for years.

“The number one thing is her calming presence, for me,” U.S. coach John Wroblewski said. “She’s got a knack for the game. Great vision and just very dependable.”

But there’s one significant experience missing from her list of accomplishments: feeling the thrill of playing a home game with the USA crest on her jersey.

She has played in front of many supportive crowds, including the 14,551 fans who gathered at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena last month to watch the U.S. face Canada and set a record for the largest attendance at a women’s national team game on U.S. soil. It was an inspirational moment for women’s hockey, which deserves better than to disappear from public consciousness between Olympic tournaments.

Exciting as that was for Barnes, it wasn’t home. It wasn’t a place she can see with her eyes closed, a rink where the faces in the stands belong to family and friends and others who supported the dreams that pulled her away from them.

That will change Monday, when Barnes suits up for Team USA at Crypto.com Arena against Canada for the fifth game in their teams’ seven-game Rivalry Series. It will be wonderfully familiar for her. It also will be oddly different.

“This is where she grew up. This is the youth team that she played for. And oftentimes she was the only girl. And now you’re going to see thousands of girls in the stands who want to be the next Cayla Barnes.”

— USA teammate Kendall Coyne Schofield, on Barnes getting to play near home

“When someone said we’re playing at Crypto, I said, ‘Where’s that?’ They were like, ‘It’s the old Staples,’” she said of the arena’s name change a year ago.

“I’m excited to play there. It’s going to be good to see some family here and spend time with them. They don’t get to see me play a ton. It’s awesome to come home. It will be special.”

Her parents planned to travel to Los Angeles for the game, which will be aired on NHL Network. Two of her brothers still live in Southern California, and they planned to bring their families. Members of the LA Lions, the girls’ youth hockey program supported by the Kings, are scheduled to meet her afterward.

They won’t be alone in rooting for her.

“I’m just so happy that she gets to be here with her family in attendance,” said forward Kendall Coyne Schofield, who’s from the Chicago suburbs and has enjoyed her own hometown moment at the United Center.

“This is where she grew up. This is the youth team that she played for. And oftentimes she was the only girl. And now you’re going to see thousands of girls in the stands who want to be the next Cayla Barnes.”

United States' Cayla Barnes does some stick checking.

United States’ Cayla Barnes does some stick checking.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Barnes is merely 5 foot 2, and that’s on a good day. But she has had a huge impact on U.S. women’s hockey.

She was a late addition to the roster for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic team, the youngest player at 18, brought in to add energy and enthusiasm when the pace and mood lagged during its pre-Games tour. She played in all five games at the Olympics but didn’t record a point as the U.S. women ended a 20-year gold medal drought.

Barnes blossomed in Beijing earlier this year, scoring a goal and contributing six assists while becoming a link between the team’s 30-something veterans and the youngsters who must surpass them for the U.S. to reclaim world and Olympic supremacy from Canada.

“As you get older you just naturally transition into a different role,” Barnes said the other day after the team practiced at the Kings’ El Segundo facility.

“It’s been kind of fun, actually, because I connect really well with the young kids and the older girls. I’m kind of in the middle. I don’t necessarily have a group I fit into on the team. I just bounce around, which has been really fun and makes it interesting.”

The path from girls’ hockey in California to the world stage has been traveled before but rarely, because it requires moving to the Midwest or East for a higher caliber of competition.

Angela Ruggiero of Simi Valley, a four-time Olympian and 1998 gold medalist, is among the few women elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame; Chanda Gunn of Huntington Beach won a bronze medal with the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics. More than a half-dozen Californians are playing in Division I women’s programs.

“The player pool is getting bigger. The more players you have the more opportunities to get to the national team,” Barnes said. “Definitely in the future we will see more girls from California represented on the national team.”

The first step for some will be seeing her play Monday or during one of the promotional meet-and-greets that are a standard part of the job for female players.

“That’s one of our biggest goals, to grow the game and allow girls to see they can be whatever they want to be,” Barnes said. “A lot of us didn’t have that representation to look up to when we were growing up, so just to be able to be that for the next generation is so important. It helps them dream that they can do it too.”

Not only that, they can do it at home.



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