You can tell by the sparkle in Stu Barnes' eyes that he loves being out on the ice with the players.
Barnes, a former Tri-City American, and now a part owner of the team, spent time Tuesday and Wednesday working with the veterans and younger players at the Toyota Center.
“ I was on the ice with the older players this morning, and now had a chance to go on with the young guys,” Barnes said Tuesday afternoon. “It was fun. They put in a good day's work.”
With coach Jim Hiller working a skills clinic this week, Barnes joined Tri-City assistant coach Dan Price on the ice with the players, sharing knowledge from his long and productive NHL career.
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“I enjoy it. It's the same building we all played in when we were kids,” said Barnes, who was on the Americans roster for their first season in 1988-89. “It’s exciting to see the young guys come in. Their eyes are wide open and wonder what it would be like to play a game in here some day.”
Barnes was working with a group of nine young forwards, and he was impressed with their skills.
“Not only the best young group we’ve had, but the deepest as well,” he said. “The quality of players and the quantity of players. A few will be here this year and if not, the years moving forward.”
With a strong core of returning players, few young players will earn a jersey this season, but the future looks very good for the Americans.
“That's always a tough situation to have, but I guess it’s a good situation for both sides,” Barnes said. “We maybe have players who could play at this level but aren't quite going to do that this year. It's good for the players. There are that many guys who are that high of quality and that goes to show it's a good group and they all are good hockey players.”
As an owner, Barnes is pleased with the caliber of players general manager Bob Tory and his scouting staff have assembled.
“From Day 1, when we all talked about doing this and getting involved, we wanted to do it the right way,” Barnes said. “We wanted to run a good program that not only the fans and the community, but everyone involved, can be proud of. I think the staff has done just that. I think Bob and his entire scouting staff and coaching staff have dedicated themselves to building a great program and something that A, people can be proud of and B, people want to be a part of.”
Barnes, Olie Kolzig, Tory and Dennis Loman have owned the team since 2005, saving it from a move to Chilliwack, British Columbia. Since then, they have won three U.S. Division titles, a Western Conference title and have become a valued member of the community with their service work.
“Reputation is big part of this game,” Barnes said. “I feel we have a really good program here, and we have the years behind us that show we are a good program, not only on the ice, but off the ice too.
“We have built a program to be proud of. Bob Tory has done a good job building this program to where it is. We are happy with it. Once you give up working hard, things go the wrong way. The entire group is dedicated to keep things going and getting better.”