Throughout his entire National Hockey League career, about half of which was spent in a Buffalo Sabres uniform, Matt Barnaby was a protector to his teammates, a villain in the eyes of opposing players and fans, and a blue-collar type player who could contribute to the offense. Now, to players on the Buffalo Regals bantam major squad, which includes his son, he’s playing the role of coach and teacher. He’s about to expand his more recent roles to other players throughout Western New York.
Beginning this summer, Barnaby will be offering his experience through clinics in his new program, Matt Barnaby Hockey. The program will be three-fold: beginning this summer Matt Barnaby Hockey will offer individual clinics and camps. Next year, he’s anticipating formation of spring teams. The program will offer training for youth players of all ages, from the young startups to the elite and experienced teens.
Barnaby spoke to Western New York Hockey Report by telephone about his upcoming program and the expertise he can lend to young, developing hockey players as a former NHL role player. As he sees it, you could learn a lot more from the role players than you might think.
“A lot of times you get to watch what happens on the ice, what works, what doesn’t work,” said Barnaby to WNY Hockey Report. “I also get a chance to draw from my experiences. I was a very talented kid growing up. I was a very talented kid going into junior but never grew, so there’s a lot of things I think I can bring to the table, from the adversity I went through in my hockey career being small and being told that I can’t do something. It was always something that motivated me.
“I also think having that well-rounded game and just knowing all the different parts that it takes to make it… Not everyone is a Pat LaFontaine or Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. There’s other guys that get to other levels, whether it be a high elite level in high school hockey or play junior hockey, or get to any division in college hockey, and even the very precious few that make it to the NHL, there’s a lot of different ways to make that next level than just scoring 150 points a year.”
Something else that’s important to this former NHL enforcer is player safety. He has previously spoken and advocated for concussion research, most notably for the Program for Understanding Childhood Concussion and Stroke (PUCCS). WNY Hockey Report asked Barnaby whether his program would include some emphasis on the right way… and the wrong way… to both give and take the hits that are a part of hockey. He admits to being a competitive coach who is full of passion. But there’s one thing that, from time to time, he admits can really tick him off.
“It’s because I think the game is being played the wrong way. There’s a time and a place for fighting and all that, but at the youth level we need to play cleanly,” Barnaby said. “We need to protect these kids. We’ve seen the concussion problems that I retired with. We see the overabundance of concussions in the National Hockey League right now and they’re trying to do their best to cut it down.
“I think as a coach I owe it, not only to the parents but to the kids that are involved, to teach them how to play the game in the safest way. We don’t want kids being hurt. There are going to be injuries, we know that just in the nature of a physical sport. But the most I can limit it and the best way I can teach it would be to be protective and play it the right way and not a
Most of the clinics will be hosted at Holiday Twin Rinks in Cheektowaga but plans include sessions at other Buffalo area venues. He’s also thinking big, with plans to open Matt Barnaby Hockey in other cities, including some where he also played for NHL clubs.
“I plan to have one in Dallas. It will probably be the first one that we will be having, a place where I used to play,” said Barnaby, whose final stop in the NHL was with the Stars. He also plans to open Matt Barnaby Hockey programs in Chicago, where he played with the Blackhawks, and Detroit.
“Obviously there is a fan base in some of those places. Hockey is big and is growing around the country, so to be able to go to these other places that I did play and hopefully bring my knowledge to the youth hockey programs in their parts of the country is just a great experience.”
For a former NHL player as well-traveled as he, Barnaby still calls Western New York his home.
“I think Buffalo (is where) I’ve always called home. It’s always been my place that I’ve always wanted to stay and be a part of, with the fans, with the friends that I made when I played here,” said Barnaby, who added he also enjoyed his stays in Pittsburgh, Colorado, Chicago, and New York. Besides playing with the Penguins, Avalanche, Rangers and previously mentioned Stars and Blackhawks, Barnaby also played for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For more information about Matt Barnaby Hockey, you can visit their website at www.mattbarnabyhockey.com. In addition, Barnaby posts updates about his program on his official Twitter account, “mattbarnaby3636”.
Michael Mroziak is the Director of Media Relations for the Buffalo Junior Sabres and also a contributing feature writer for WNY Hockey Report.