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Former NHL enforcer Matthew Barnaby was the guest speaker at Mr. Tremblay's VCI physical eduction class on Friday, March 26. Photo by Daniel Tremblay

VCI students receive virtual talk from NHL super pest Matthew Barnaby

Former National Hockey League super pest Matthew Barnaby was the virtual guest speaker at Mr. Tremblay’s physical education class, on Friday, March 26, at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute.

The 14-year veteran and enforcer spoke about his life growing up in Nepean, his career in the NHL, the sacrifices he made to become an NHL player and many other topics aimed at helping the students prepare for their futures.

Many students did not know much about the former NHL right winger, other than what they learned from watching a few YouTube videos. A quick search on Matthew Barnaby will generate multiple video clips of his 406 career fights in the NHL and highlight many of his statistics that include more than four times as many penalty minutes (1248) than points (300) during his 14-year career.

Barnaby quickly established a relationship with the students by talking to them about his high school days. He talked about the difficulties he had growing up in a single-parent house where there wasn’t a lot of money. All his Christmas and birthday gifts were hockey equipment, year after year.

The former NHL enforcer told students his path to the NHL was not an easy one. After being the best player on his minor hockey teams year after year, he suffered many setbacks on his way to the big league.

Barnaby was cut from his minor bantam team at age 14, then from his major bantam team at age 15, and dropped from his minor midget team when he was 16. The young hockey player often cried after these disappointments, but found the courage and resiliency to bounce back each time. While noting he could have quit with good reason, Barnaby noted he still enjoyed the game and luckily – the summer he turned 17 – the young forward grew about a foot and put on quite a few pounds.

In 1990, Barnaby suffered another setback. He attended the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) draft in Montreal, hoping to hear his name called out by one of the major junior teams. After seeing many of his teammates and players he had played with get drafted in the early rounds, he left the draft after round 15. Again, tears were barely held back in the car on the way home. Barnaby only found out the next morning that he had been drafted by the expansion Beauport Harfangs – with the final pick.

Barnaby knew that he had to make some adjustments to his game, just as many students sometimes must adjust certain aspects of their lives when they get to a certain age. They need to balance tougher school courses, relationships, jobs, family life, make college or university choices and continue to perform at school, be a good friend/son/daughter etc.

Barnaby became an instigator in the QMJHL and decided to become the best teammate that he could to make the team in Beauport and stay in the league. He knew that being a good teammate meant he had to stand up for other players and sometimes fight opponents much bigger and stronger than he. The NHL enforcer compared it to standing up to bullies at school. See something, say something is being a “good teammate”. Unfortunately, there are too many “internet tough guys or girls” out there, he said. On the ice, when someone had “beef” with you, it was settled there and then. Things in society must be handled differently than on the ice, but you can always stand up for someone and do the right thing, Barnaby commented.

At the age of 47, Barnaby said he continues to grow as a person and is constantly working on making himself better. Students should never stop working on themselves and try to be a better person every day. Dealing with adversity is something that students will deal with every day. From something as minor as homework, to something major like moving to a new town or school.

In closing, the 14-year NHL veteran highlighted the importance of preparation and respect. The respect students show towards each other, their parents, their coaches, their teachers, and themselves will be incredibly important as they grow up and become young adults he said. The habits and work ethics they start developing now will serve as a foundation for the future. He ended by really driving home the message about being a “nice person”.

The Matthew Barnaby that people saw on the ice and the person he is at home are two completely different people, said the hard-nosed winger, who was voted “most hated player in the NHL” in 1998 and admits to making a lot of enemies in the league.

One of Barnaby’s biggest rivals was former Montreal Canadiens tough guy Lyle Odelein. The two hated each other, and their war of words on the ice was well documented and personal. Several years ago, Odelein contracted a terrible infection and ended up in the hospital. He underwent a double transplant surgery and had a heart valve repaired, and was fortunate to survive. Barnaby ended by saying that he and Odelin have now buried the hatchet and they are also very good friends.

Barnaby fielded questions from students and answered a few “quick hitters”.

Sydney Mode asked him about his rivalry with Odelein. This brought a smile to his face since they now have a great relationship. He said there is no bad blood between the two of them. Mode also asked him in which city he enjoyed playing the most. He has a strong loyalty to Buffalo, but said New York was pretty tough to beat.

Garrett Cunning asked Barnaby about Bob Probert and the relationship between the two. Barnaby told him Probert was by far one of the most feared players in NHL during his playing days.

Randy Mayr asked him if he ever looked forward to any fights – another question that brought a smile to Barnaby’s face. He said he was so used to fighting bigger guys, that whenever he got to fight someone in his “weight class” he was pretty confident and enjoyed those a bit more.

Alek Archambault asked him about the game he remembers most. Barnaby quickly replied his most memorable game was a game in Montreal on Mother’s Day, when he scored three goals as his mother and many friends watched from the stands. Equally as memorable was his first ever NHL game. His most intense game was a game 7 playoff game where the Sabers won against the Ottawa Senators in overtime.

Jeremy Lessard asked Matthew how he felt on game days, knowing he was going to have to fight that evening. Barnaby said he rarely slept on game days, unlike almost every other player does during the regular season. He simply could not. To ease his mind, he would go for walks and try to get to the arena as soon as possible to work on his sticks and take his mind off the fights.

This article was submitted by Mr. Tremblay’s class at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute.

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