New Hampton School graduate Cayla Barnes won gold with Team USA in PyeongChang in February.
USA Hockey - Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
March 22, 2018NEW HAMPTON — New Hampton girls' hockey coach Craig Churchill had a pretty good reason to keep an eye on the US women's hockey team during the recent Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Former Husky Cayla Barnes, who graduated last year, earned a spot on the Olympic team and was part of Team USA's gold medal winning effort in mid-February.
"A year ago, she was here," Churchill said of his four-year player. "You could recognize that she was special from the beginning.
"I don't think anyone was truly surprised," the Husky coach said. "We thought she'd be at the Olympics, but maybe not so soon.
"So much of life is all about timing," Churchill continued. "She was in the right place at the right time and made good decisions."
While she didn't record a point in her five Olympic games, the Eastvale, Calif. native was certainly a presence for the US squad. And Churchill notes that the key to Barnes' success is her drive, something he says she has more of than anyone he's seen.
"She had this amazing drive and insatiable taste for victory," he said. "Whatever it took, she was going to do it to win."
Because her drive was so strong and she was obviously talented and wanted to win, Churchill said it was a matter of corralling all the emotions and getting them working in the right direction together.
"Early on, it was a matter of honing in on that drive and ultra-strong competitiveness and dealing with it in a way that could benefit her," Churchill said. "Helping her to learn from losses helped her learn better."
And despite the fact that she was often the best player on the ice, Barnes was always looking to get better, something her New Hampton coach said impressed him as her time at the school went on.
"She always had that growth mindset," Churchill stated. "She was always wanting to do what it takes to get better.
"Not many people that talented have that, but she never accepted who she was and wanted to get better," he continued.
However, Churchill pointed out that the drive she had was not really oriented toward herself, but she instead wanted to make her team better.
"Her drive comes not from herself, per se, but about what's best for the team," the Husky coach stated. "It's all about the team, what can she do to make the team better."
Barnes committed to Boston College after her sophomore year but took time off from the college to play in the Olympics. And Churchill expects her to have an impact on Chestnut Hill as well.
"Cayla Barnes is the X factor," Churchill stated. "Everywhere she goes, she wins.
"She's the Sidney Crosby of girls' hockey," he continued. "She will do whatever it takes to win games. Boston College has always been good, but she'll help Boston College win a national championship.
Churchill pointed out that only twice in his career has he seen a player that was as special as Barnes is and he pointed that out to the admissions people when he was working on trying to bring her to New Hampton.
"I said, 'this kid is a future Olympian,'" he remembers telling the admissions officer. "'We have to take her, she's going to be in the Olympics.'"
During Barnes' time in New Hampton, the school won four Lakes Region League championships, two Watkins Tournament championships (and likely would've won a third if not for a weather postponement) and the team also won the 2017 NEPSAC Division I championship, a significant accomplishment given the schools they were up against.
"Some of those schools have large enrollments and large endowments and we beat them," Churchill stated. "It says a lot about what she can do and how she can change the whole dynamic of a team."
Barnes got her start in the sport playing roller hockey in California and Churchill found her competing at prospect tournaments and he still sat in amazement as he watched the Olympics and saw his former charge on the ice in PyeongChang.
"While I'm watching, I'm thinking, a year ago she was playing for me," he said. "But she's the same person. The Olympics has not changed her at all.
"They checked in with me," he said. "That talks to the type of people they are and the type of daughter they raised."
He noted that he was receiving text message from both Barnes and her family during Olympics, showing how well they are grounded. He also pointed out that her parents bought a house in New Hampshire during their daughter's senior year because they enjoyed their time in the state so much.
And while her hockey skills are certainly admirable, Churchill noted it was great just to work with such a good kid.
"Hockey is great, but I get more excited about the kids I get to work with," he said.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 279-4516, ext. 155 or email@example.com.