Girls hockey

ALL-USA Watch: Girls Hockey Player of the Year Cayla Barnes set to led Team USA in U18 Worlds

ST. CATHARINES, ON - JANUARY 15: Cayla Barnes #7 of Team USA passes the puck in the Gold Medal game against Team Canada during the 2016 IIHF U18 Women's World Championships at the Meridian Centre on January 15, 2016 in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 598998661 [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Cayla Barnes will be the captain of the U.S. Women’s U18 team in the World Championship (Photo: Vaughn Ridley, Getty Images)

Cayla Barnes turns 18 on Saturday. She’ll celebrate in the Czech Republic with the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team at the World Championship.

The tournament  — her third trip to the U18 Worlds — is part of an exhaustive schedule of hockey that pulls her away from the team at New Hampton School in New Hampshire, but also potentially moves her closer to the ultimate goal – a spot on the 2018 Olympic team.

She played in games for New Hampton to start the season and then went to U.S. Women’s National Team Camp and made her National Team debut in December as the youngest player on the roster in exhibition games against Canada.

“It’s a lot of hockey, but I love it,” she says.

A 5-4 senior defender, Barnes was named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Girls Hockey Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season after she had 12 goals and added 23 assists in 28 games. She was named to the ALL-USA Preseason Team for this season.

RELATED: ALL-USA Preseason Girls Hockey Team for 2016-17

“It’s tough to balance sometimes because it’s hard to leave my New Hampton team for that long,” says Barnes, a Boston College commit. “I am a team captain and was last year too and had to go in the middle of the season. That’s been the difficult part. My teammates are really understanding that it’s a big opportunity for me. Whenever anyone gets a chance to represent their country, I hope they get as much support as my team gives me.”

The U18 gold medal game is Jan. 14. Barnes expects to return from the Czech Republic the next day and head right to New Hampton.

“I’ll head back to school that night on Jan. 15 on Sunday and I’ll be in class the next morning on Monday. That will be fun,” she said laughing.

Barnes recently spoke with USA TODAY High School Sports about her game, her goals and her experiences in international competition.

Q: What’s the difference between playing with the U18 team and playing with your high school team?

A: There is not that much difference. We have some very talented girls at New Hampton. They push me every day and I push myself at practice and in games. We have girls at New Hampton who have made it to select camps and the program is definitely growing and getting strong. I’m lucky to have such a good group of girls.

Cayla Barnes (Photo: Charles George Photograhy)

Cayla Barnes (Photo: Charles George Photograhy)

Q: What lessons have you learned from your international experience that you were able to bring back to New Hampton?

A: Playing with the national team helped my game just become faster and made me a higher-level thinker and getting a better understanding of knowing your role. All the girls on the national team are the best players on their home team. They might not be the best player on the national team, but they can accept because without each player contributing, there is not a complete team.

You have to know your role even when you’re at home and you’re the best player. You have to  make the right play, not the play you want to make. Make the outlet pass like you had a national team player with you. To help other people get better, you have to play your best all the time and to push yourself and push them too.

Q: You had the chance to play with the U.S. Women’s National Team in December for the first time. What was that experience like for you?

A: That was incredible. It was awesome to see how the older girls and the Olympians and how they prepare for games, how they train, their mindset and how they operate on a day-to-day basis. These are elite-level athletes who compete so hard every day to be better. It was awesome to learn those skills and take that back to New Hampton and the U18 team. I hope get another chance to play with them relatively soon. That week and a half was incredible, just being around so much hockey knowledge and getting to learn from them.

Q: We are not that far from the World Championships and the Olympics. Is it safe to say the Olympics is the ultimate destination for you?

A: That’s the goal. I’m still very young. The next step is the World Championships in April for the national team. Hopefully, I’ll get a spot on that team. Then the Olympic camp in the summer of 2017. I plan to keep working hard and I’m hopeful that I’ll get shot at that tryout.

Q: How did you get started playing hockey?

A: I was 5 years old. I started skating when I was 2 and quit figure skating and started playing hockey at 4. I have four older brothers and they all played hockey. I wanted to do what they were doing at the other end of the rink. I guess I was vocal at that young age that I didn’t want to do figure skating and wanted to go play hockey.

Q: You are born and raised in Southern California but you go to school in New Hampshire and moved across the country at 14. How did that happen?

A: It wasn’t easy to move. It was really hard on my parents because I’m the youngest and the only girl. It was hard to let me go. They knew that was what I wanted to do and wanted me to follow my dreams, get seen by colleges and get opportunities. The opportunities here were not right for me for hockey.

I decided to go and I’m glad I did. I love every second at New Hampton. I met my best friends there and built lifelong friendships. It changed my life. It was hard at first, but now I couldn’t be happier.