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Former Saint is Captain America

Thursday December 26, 2013

Riley Barber played in the USHL for two seasons and was part of the Clark Cup champion Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2011. (photo by Jim Naprstek)

Former Saints standout will lead Team USA at World Junior Championship

By Jim Leitner, Dubuque Telegraph Herald www.thonline.com

Riley Barber paid close attention to the way T.J. Schlueter commanded the Dubuque Fighting Saints’ dressing room as captain of the 2011 Clark Cup champions.

At the time, Barber was an impressionable 16-year-old in his first season of junior hockey. He respected Schlueter’s presence as the Saints navigated through an expansion season in the United States Hockey League and won a playoff championship.

Three years later, Barber plans to implement some of the traits he learned from Schlueter while serving as captain of USA Hockey’s entry in the Under-20 World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. The Miami (Ohio) University sophomore forward is one of only three returning veterans from last year’s squad, which won gold in Ufa, Russia.

“It’s an honor to be voted captain, especially on this stage and with this team. It’s something I’ll definitely never forget,” said Barber, a sixth-round NHL Draft pick of the Washington Capitals in 2012. “It’s awesome just to put on the USA sweater and to be able to wear the ‘C’ for a great group of guys is something else. I expect to lead by example, working my hardest every day.”

Schlueter led the Saints in much the same fashion, which is why Barber mentions him first when talking about the most influential captains in his career. After leaving Dubuque, Schlueter helped Ferris State reach the NCAA Division I Frozen Four championship game as a freshman in 2011-12.

“I definitely took a lot of leadership traits from T.J.” said Barber, an alternate captain in Miami who will be serving as captain for the first time in his career. “He wasn’t the guy who talked the most, but he just went out and did his business and worked as hard as he could. He knew the other guys would follow him. That’s what I’m trying to do here in a short tournament.”

Barber shares second place on the NCAA Division I scoring chart with 28 points, including 11 goals, in 18 games. Last season, he led all rookies with 39 points, including 15 goals. As an 18-year old at the 2013 World Junior Championship, he contributed three goals and three assists as a top-six forward role for Team USA.

Barber also knows how to win.

In addition to winning gold at the World Junior Championship last season, he helped Miami win the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season championship.

Barber helped USA Hockey win gold at the IIHF Men’s Under-18 World Championship in 2011-12. He also played a key role in Dubuque’s 2011 Clark Cup Playoff championship a year after leading the Detroit Compuware Bantam squad to a USA Hockey Youth National Championship.

“I don’t think there’s any question we have limited experience with this group,” said University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, who will guide the Americans in Sweden. “Riley’s been through it. He understands what it takes to have success in this tournament. Riley is hard-working, commands a presence in the locker room and is a key contributor to our success. He’s a great choice to be our captain.”

Barber learned how to stay on an even keel during the 2013 World Junior Championship. The Americans opened with a pair of losses in pool play, then finished with four straight victories. Last year’s squad featured another former Dubuque standout, John Gaudreau, a Hobey Baker finalist at Boston College.

“You can go 2-2 in the round robin, like we did last year, and still win the tournament,” Barber said. “In a tournament like this, wins do matter, but it’s all about getting better every day. You have to be at your best for that last game.”

The University of Michigan’s Andrew Copp and Boston University’s Matt Grzelcyk will serve as alternate captains.  Both are also USHL alumni.

“They’ve all been in previous international tournaments, and, obviously, all three have been key contributors to their own teams this fall,” Lucia said. “All that helps as far as being in the locker room and commanding a presence with the rest of their teammates.”

The three captains won a U-18 world championship together two seasons ago.

“They’re both great friends of mine,” Barber said. “It’s awesome to share this experience with them. I’ll definitely take all their information and word. For me, it’s not like I’m telling everybody what to do," Barber said. "Everybody can step up and have a say on the team.”

The Americans enter the tournament as underdogs behind Canada, Sweden, and Russia. But Barber likes the makeup of his team.

“The strengths of our team are speed and strength,” he said. “When we get down low in the other team’s offensive zone, it’s hard to get a lot of our guys off the puck.

“We’re not the flashiest team, and we may not have the most (NHL) first-rounders, but it’s definitely a great group of guys who will come together and do all the gritty things it takes to make plays, get pucks to the net and get those gritty goals.”

Team USA schedule

Dec. 26: Czech Republic, 10:30 a.m. (Central)

Dec. 28: Slovakia, 6:30 a.m.

Dec. 29: Germany, 8 a.m.

Dec. 31: Canada, 10:30 a.m.

Jan. 2: Quarterfinals

Jan. 3: Semifinals

Jan. 5: Medal games

Live coverage in the U.S. on NHL Network and NHL.com

Special thank you to Jim Leitner and the Dubuque Telegraph Herald for contributing this story.

 

Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 12th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2013-14.  A record 32 players were chosen in the 2013 NHL Draft and more than 300 players on team rosters last season have committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.  For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive).  Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).

It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.

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