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Barnes Overcoming Loss

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 21, 2003

TROY - On February 2, 2002 in Burlington, Conrad Barnes' life changed forever.

After assisting on a key goal in a 6-4 victory over Vermont, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute center learned his father had passed away suddenly.

Barnes was shattered. Hockey, his lifelong passion, now seemed insignificant.

Things got even worse during the summer, when hockey players begin preparing for the upcoming season.

Barnes was still filled with grief, sorrow, confusion, loneliness as summer wore on and he dreaded the time when September was upon him. Just coming back to school, let alone hockey training camp, would be a major chore for the Denver native.

"Yeah, it was definitely a struggle to get everything going," he said. "The year before, everything happened toward the end (of the season), and I just kept going. I never really had time to think about what happened.

"Then, that summer's when things started going south," he added. "I had a lot of time to think about it then, and dwell on it."

He went on to score just two assists in 27 games after totaling four goals and 13 assists as a sophomore.

When it became obvious that 2002-03 wasn't going to be a memorable one for him - and the Engineers were on their way to a school-record 25 losses - Barnes could have easily succumbed to total frustration.

"Well, coach (Dan Fridgen) was real understanding about it," Barnes said. "We had a few discussions about it. I took some time off last year and was just trying to get back into shape for the playoffs. It took some time. There's not much else you can do; things don't always go your way. It was probably the worst year I've had hockey-wise," he said. "Everybody has them. But it gave me that much more to work toward this year. I was lucky enough that last year wasn't my senior year and I had one more year to prove I can play at this level and I wanted to help this team win an ECAC championship."

Barnes desperately wanted his senior year to be better. That was a daunting task, though. Plenty of extra physical work was before him. Moreover, though, just getting to a mindset that would permit him to accomplish all he needed to return his game to its previous level it was would be demanding, to say the least.

"Well, I had worked hard at the end of last season just to lose some weight," he said. "So, at that point, basically all I needed to do was get my wind back and some of my strength."

Right. That's difficult in any season.

And what about confidence?

"Yeah, confidence was definitely something I was lacking," he admitted. "But I knew I had (been successful) when I was younger, and I know the college game much better now than when I was a freshman and sophomore. I felt that as long as I came back, worked myself into the lineup and gave myself a shot, I'd be able to do it again."

Barnes' hard work has paid off. He's been centering RPI's top line, has killed penalties effectively, is the top faceoff man on the team and generally is on the ice against the opposition's top-scoring line and has a +2 plus-minus rating.

Barnes isn't a superstar. He has two goals and three assists for five points in nine games. Yet the Engineers missed having him at 100 percent - physically and mentally - last season.

"It's nice to have him back," Fridgen chuckled. "He does a real good job of doing the little things defensively, being gritty and opening up space for the offensive players whom he might be playing with. What he does by having offensive guys with him, he does a good job of covering for them defensively."

"I do the things coach wants me to do," Barnes said. "Just be a strong defensive centerman and make sure that, playing against the other team's top line, they don't get many chances. A strong offense comes from a strong defense."

Barnes isn't a big goal-scorer and certainly is not the classic playmaker in the vein of Marc Cavosie. He just has a knack for making good things happen.

"He knows what his role is and there's going to be times when he has (scoring) opportunities," Fridgen said. "He's winning the draws, doing a good job defensively. The (offensive) part, that's a bonus and that'll come. And when it comes, it will certainly give us an extra spark. But right now, thank God, we haven't needed him to put numbers up."

Barnes thinks back to that night often.

"It's something I don't think I'll ever forget about," he said. "I learned a lot about not only myself, but my friends, my family. It made me that much stronger. You never know in life when things are going to change drastically, one way or the other, and that's kind of the way I go about things now. Just every day I try to do the best job I can and give everything I have and at the end of the day, if I can go to sleep knowing I did that, I know it's been a good day."

As for games, he says, "I know if I leave everything on the ice, I'll have nothing to regret."

Barnes has advice for those in his situation.

"Everybody deals with it (loss of a parent) in his own way," he said. "I was lucky enough to lean on some of my friends (including co-captain Ben Barr) and family when I really needed. You've got to learn to use the support of those around you if you're ever going to deal with it. To try to keep it all inside, it'll haunt you further down. That's kind of what happened to me at first. I didn't talk about it or anything. Once I started letting things out and dealing with it, I was able to move forward and move on with my life."