October 14, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Barriball of Fire

Minnesota's Redshirt Senior Came Back with an Exclamation Point in Opening Weekend

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Jay Barriball celebrates one of his four goals last weekend against UMass. (photo: Ryan Coleman/d3photography.com)

Jay Barriball celebrates one of his four goals last weekend against UMass. (photo: Ryan Coleman/d3photography.com)

If anyone was a candidate to join the conga line out of Minnesota, it would have been Jay Barriball.

After enduring some up and down seasons for Minnesota, Barriball was victim of a freak accident in practice, just five games into his senior year. He collided with Sam Lofquist — a player who, just one week later, was next in line to leave the program (for unrelated reasons) — and tore a knee ligament.

But Barriball did not think twice. After being told his season was over, he immediately embraced the idea of a medical redshirt so he could return for the reboot of his senior year.

"I just said right away I want to come back and want to help the team next year," Barriball said. "That's what the plan was.

"I was super excited for my senior season at the University of Minnesota, where I wanted to play my entire childhood, my entire time growing up," Barriball said. It was a no brainer to finish up."

The return was everything he could've dreamed of. In his first weekend back, with Minnesota hosting Massachusetts to start the season, Barriball scored in the first period. The following night — another Gophers win — Barriball scored three, all in the first period — a natural hat trick.

Two games, four goals. Talk about raising expectations.

"For me personally, I wanted to get back and get off to a good start to get that confidence back," Barriball said. "It's been a while since I was skating in games. Most of all, it was good for the team. We had a good weekend. We got a couple wins and we saw things that we need to improve on."

Barriball teamed with another senior, Mike Hoeffel, and freshman Erik Haula in the two wins over Massachusetts. It clicked right away.

"The chemistry we built in the first couple practices and games has been good," Barriball said. "Just like a team does, we have to keep working hard and get better every day."

Haula, who Barriball calls a "pure playmaker," comes via Shattuck St. Mary's and the USHL.

"He can move the puck, he has great vision, he knows how to take care of the puck and what to do with the puck," Barriball said.

The weekend made it look easy. But it was anything but. The injury, an LCL tear, was to the outside of the right knee, an unusual spot for a hockey player. It was over seven weeks on crutches, followed by vigorous rehab.

"The hardest part was just mentally," Barriball said. "All my buddies and friends I've been playing with the last 3-4 years were out there playing, and I wasn't able to do that with them. I tried to stay around the guys as much as possible. I tried to do my rehab as close to practice time as possible, so I could see the guys."

He started skating again, finally, in March.

"When I was able to skate and work out, a lot of that strength came back," Barriball said. "To get that strength back is probably the hardest part. You don't walk on it for six weeks, then you're lifting with your other leg."

But there was never any thought of leaving Minnesota. Barriball was not dismayed by the team's recent struggles, both on the ice and amid the oft-heard criticisms that the program is in trouble. In fact, it only steeled his determination.

"In the game today, it's such a small line of what makes a team successful and unsuccessful," Barriball said. "The last couple years, we were so close with that. I knew some of the guys we had coming in and coming back, and it never crossed my mind for a moment to leave. I thought we were for sure going to be a successful team, and I was excited to come back.

"It's a big-time program. We have a lot of loyal fans and they're going to be critical if we're not successful year in and year out. You accept that as a player and a coach. It's our job to keep the tradition of the program. It hasn't happened the last few years. It's our job to get Gopher hockey where it used to be. We all take that responsibility. We have to work together. We're the people that has to find the answers."

Barriball dismisses any criticism of Lucia and the rest of the Gophers coaching staff.

"I don't think (anyone who left was) unhappy with the coaching staff or team or anything like that," Barriball said. "There's only been a few of them. But if you look, there's a lot of guys that play at Minnesota that are playing in the pro ranks. I think our coaches have done a great job over the years developing guys, pushing them each year, each practice to get better. I can tell you I've gotten better since I've been here. I couldn't be happier."

Barriball had a chance to view the action last season from the sidelines. He saw what everyone else saw.

"We gotta score goals," Barriball said, plainly. "Last year we didn't score enough goals. ... I think we have the guys on the team this year to do it, and a big part of that is going to be the power play. We put a lot of work into our power play on a week to week basis. We have guys with all the ability in the world, it's just a matter of getting confidence, and finding a rhythm and getting your nose dirty."

Getting one's nose dirty is the key, and something to you particularly have to remember when playing on a big ice surface like the one at Minnesota's Marriucci Arena.

"It's easy to skate around on the perimiters and make plays, but that doesn't get it done," Barriball said. "We realize that. We've done a lot better job this year at getting to the net and getting those dirty goals."

Four of them, in fact, already by Barriball.

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