WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Being cut from any team is never easy. Luckily for Cayla Barnes, she had plenty to take her mind off her disappointment at being dropped from the U.S. women’s national hockey team.
In 2015-16 at New Hampton (N.H.) School, Barnes was named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Girls Hockey Player of the Year. As a senior defenseman last winter, Barnes recorded 10 goals and 36 points to lead her team to a 30-3-1 record, earning herself a spot as a member of the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Girls Hockey First Team in the process.
This past spring, she headed off to Boston College, where she played five games with the Eagles.
A call in late October changed everything.
Days after watching the U.S. women lose 5-1 to Canada in Boston on Oct. 25, Barnes learned she was moving from the bleachers to the bench as a call-up to the national team with the chance to earn a roster spot for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The defender, who will turn 19 in January, quickly withdrew from college to become the U.S. team’s youngest player, chasing an opportunity that had seemed four years away.
“Once I got cut, they said be ready, keep training, so that was always in the back of my mind,” Barnes said. “I wasn’t expecting the call at all. … This was completely out of the blue for me.”
The 5-foot-1, 145-pound native of Eastvale, Calif., had to alert her parents, notify her coaches at Boston College and leave school to join the national team training in Florida.
“My coaches are really supportive, and I was so excited to come and join this team,” Barnes said. “Though they’ve been hectic, the past … weeks, they’ve been really exciting and really fun.”
Barnes helped the U.S. win the last three under-18 women’s world championships, and she also played with the U.S. women’s national team for a couple of games against Canada in December 2016. A strong skater with good vision on the ice, Barnes wasted no time showing why USA Hockey wanted her on the national team.
She debuted at the Four Nations Cup and scored a power-play goal in the first period of her first game, an 8-2 win over Finland on Nov. 7 .
“For somebody that’s young and just joined the team to show that kind of patience … that’s why she’s here,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.
Barnes followed up a night later with her second goal in two games, scoring on another power play in the first period of a 4-2 win over Canada. She also had an assist in a 5-0 win over Sweden.
She hasn’t scored since, but Barnes is getting ice time against Canada. The United States plays Canada again Friday night, this time in San Jose, California, in the latest of the two powerhouses’ pre-Olympic tour.
Stauber said Barnes has a great mind for both hockey and the style the U.S. wants to play in trying to end the Americans’ 20-year drought without Olympic gold.
“She fits right in,” Stauber said.
Helping ease her transition, Barnes sits in the locker room between a pair of veterans in defender Kacey Bellamy and forward Amanda Kessel. Barnes also is one of five Boston College players or graduates on the roster.
Bellamy says Barnes’ questions have involved basic issues like faceoffs, power play and special teams. The two-time Olympic silver medalist said Barnes’ debut with two goals in her first two games was very impressive.
“I’m not even surprised,” Bellamy said. “She’s wise beyond her years. I’ve worked with her a little bit with the U-18 level and just watching her throughout her process, throughout prep school, she’s, like I said, she’s wise beyond her years and she’s an amazing player. Very poised. Just plays the style of play to a T. She’s just wonderful to have around the locker room.”
Currently, the national team has 25 players and that total must be trimmed to 23 by Jan. 1 when the Olympic roster is expected to be announced. Even if Barnes doesn’t make the Olympic team, she has no regrets about withdrawing from college to take the risk by making the most of her opportunity.
“I’m here to do a job that they asked me to do, and I’m going to play my role to the best of my ability,” Barnes said. “I’m here to help this team.”