Self-deprecating. Good-humored. Humble. Respectful. Kind.
Those are the words that come to mind when asked to describe Tyson Barrie, the former Av-turned-Toronto-Maple-Leaf who plays his first game against his old team Saturday at the Pepsi Center.
As exhibit A of how I could ever have thought those kinds of things about Barrie, I give you some video from his press availability today at the University of Denver, following a practice by his new team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Not one other credentialed Avalanche media person was at the Barrie avail today. But there was not a chance I was going to miss this. Didn’t care if I had zero sleep from covering a game the night before in Minnesota and having to drive to the airport at 4 a.m. for a 6:55 a.m. flight home after a 10-day road trip.
Tyson Barrie was an absolute must to be there for in his first day back on Denver soil as an enemy player since the Avs traded him in July, after eight years with the club. He deserved that kind of respect, and I’m glad I was able to give it (and thanks, TB4, for the personal shoutout in that video above).
That’s me talking of my respect for Barrie, not about me being more hard-working than others (but, yeah, that too, which is why you subscribe. Right. Right?).
Early in his career, I formed a bit of a bond with Barrie. He was shuttled back and forth from the minors in those days, and even as early as 2013, people like Patrick Roy were questioning whether he belonged in the NHL. Roy, in fact, sent Barrie back to the minors early in that 2013-14 Cinderella season, publicly criticizing his play despite having been given the chance to play on the first power play.
Barrie, though, never once whined about it. He took all the slings and arrows with grace, and did what anyone successful eventually does: he used it as fuel to better himself. He worked even harder, got into better shape (he was kind of pudgy as a young player) and re-invented himself. Whenever he was called back up from the minors, I’d say something like, “Good to see you again kid, I gotta keep writing about you it seems.” And he would say something like, “Just tryin’ to keep you busy.” Rarely have I ever crossed the line of “working relationship” to “friendship”, with a player and I’m not sure I ever actually crossed it with Barrie. But if not, I came close. He was a guy I just liked to talk to sometimes, sometimes on things having nothing to do with hockey. I appreciated how he never gave up and always kept fighting, even in bad times. That might have even set a nice example for me in my own personal life. You’re not supposed to cheer in the press box. But, screw that. I always secretly cheered for Barrie when he succeeded in recent years.
That’s why it was tough to see him go. We all felt a sense of loss when Barrie was dealt away to Toronto over the summer. Here was a guy who was there in all those awful, lean years of the early aughts, who, like the team, was knocked down a lot in those years. But, he kept getting back up and kept battling. That’s why it was really tough to see him go. Just when you knew the Avs were really taking that next step as a team, they traded a key guy who helped that transition along.
Of all the guys who deserved to take part in whatever big-time potential success the Avs have as a team in the near future, Barrie was the one. But the business of pro hockey is a cruel mistress.
When it was becoming evident that Cale Makar was an emerging talent, you knew Barrie’s days here were numbered. Makar made redundant the kind of package Barrie brought to the table, and that combined with his contract status made him the most obvious player to be potentially dealt over the summer, for the kind of player they didn’t haave in redundancy (a second-line center). On draft night in Vancouver this year, he was almost dealt to the Canucks, at least according to my sources at the time. When that fell through, despite Joe Sakic’s public proclamation that nothing was going on regarding Barrie, he was dealt not long after to the Leafs.
Barrie has gotten off to a slow start with his new team. He only scored his first goal of the season on Thursday night in Arizona. His plus-minus number was about that of a normal night on the thermometer in Winnipeg in winter. Playing in probably the most intense media fishbowl of them all, Toronto, Barrie has come under some heavy criticism from fans and media alike.
Yet there he was on Friday, a smile on his face, with that same self-deprecating humor of yore. He even poked a good-natured joke at my expense in that video above.
After the media scrum, several onlooking fans tip-toed nervously to Barrie to ask for autographs. He not only signed every one who wanted one, he made honest-to-god conversation with them.
That’s why many Avs fans will not only shed a tear when Barrie doffs his cap to them after what I’m told will be a superb video tribute by the team, they will, consciously or not, let out a cheer if he scores a goal for the Leafs against the Avs.
In this heavily-partisan age, there is nothing partisan about how people feel about Tyson Barrie.
He was, and still is, one of the good guys.
Here is more audio interview with Barrie today: