Barrasso had a one-of-a-kind rise to stardom

Wednesday, 11.25.2009 / 3:00 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - Staff Writer
What are the odds of an 18-year-old goalie beginning his NHL career just six months after high school graduation?

Unless your name is Tom Barrasso, likely slim to none.

Even Barrasso, the only goalie to make the NHL right out of high school without some form of major junior or collegiate experience, said it's highly unlikely we'll ever see another scholastic goalie earn a one-way ticket to the big leagues again.

"I don't think the competitive level of high school hockey is quite what it was," said Barrasso, who will be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Dec. 1. "There are so many other options for kids playing today. I think the USHL junior program takes a lot of kids out of that element of going straight to the NHL. The way kids are ushered along nowadays, it's probably unlikely it'll happen again."

While that may be true, perhaps it's also reasonable to think it's unlikely because there may never be another goalie as equipped to make the jump to the NHL as Barrasso.

For starters, he played for coach Tom Fleming while attending Acton-Boxboro High School in Massachusetts. Fleming, who guided Acton-Boxboro to a 103-6-5 record in his five seasons at the helm, was one of the greatest three-sport athletes in Dartmouth College history.

"He coached our team more like a college team than a high school team," Barrasso said. "We had good skill, but he brought certain concepts and a certain work ethic to high school hockey not many people knew. When he left Boxboro, he went to Northwood School (N.Y.) and coached Tony Granato and Mike Richter and guys like that, so he was a very gifted coach. At that level, he did a good job of working to make us younger kids better."

Fleming's team at Northwood, in fact, would actually beat up on college junior varsity squads during the prep school's glory years of the late 1980s.

As a senior at Acton-Boxboro, Barrasso would finish 22-0-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average and 10 shutouts. He would go fifth overall to the Buffalo Sabres in the 1983 Entry Draft and would debut with the club on Oct. 5 -- becoming the youngest goalie to play and win a game in the NHL in almost 40 years.

He'd also win the Calder Trophy and Vezina Trophy after finishing 26-12-3 with a 2.84 GAA and .893 save percentage as a rookie. He'd conclude his NHL career 18 seasons later with the most Stanley Cup Playoff wins (61) of any American-born goalie in history and the second-most wins in the regular season (369) -- behind 2007 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee John Vanbiesbrouck (374).

Barrasso will be honored during a ceremony at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel on Dec. 1. He'll be joined by the gold-medal winning 1998 U.S. Women's Olympic team, former U.S. Olympic medalists John LeClair and Tony Amonte and inventor Frank Zamboni, who'll be inducted posthumously.

"The first thing I did when I received the call that I would be inducted was go online and look up who was in the Hall of Fame and it's pretty impressive," Barrasso said. "The thing that strikes me the most when I think of it is more the journey I had with my family and growing up as a kid. They gave me the opportunity to find a sport I loved and was able to develop in from the time I was 7-years-old until I turned pro. It truly chokes me up thinking about it because of how much they sacrificed to allow me the opportunity to live the dream that I have and I'll always be grateful."

Barrasso gained valuable experience just prior to Buffalo's training camp in the summer of 1983 when he was invited to Team USA's Olympic developmental camp in preparation for the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo.

"We started training as a group in Colorado Springs in August (1983) for four weeks and that got me in tremendous condition; we were on the ice every day and I was playing with the top college guys and top players in the U.S. at that time," Barrasso said. "When I left the Olympic Team to go to Buffalo's camp, I felt like I was physically ready to give it a go and, mentally, really wanted to accomplish the goal of making the team."

Barrasso would play for six clubs over his career -- wining back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and '92. He'd also join silver-medal winning Team USA at the 2002 Winter Olympics under the tutelage of Herb Brooks.

"I'd put that silver medal right up there with my two Cups," Barrasso said. "I had been out of hockey for a year with my daughter's cancer recurrence and, that summer, I was just hoping to find a job and an opportunity to play. I found it in North Carolina (with the Carolina Hurricanes) and was probably one of the top 3-to-4 goalies in the League that year.

"It was a great experience for me to be able to come back after being off. I literally didn't put on equipment for probably 16 months, but to come back and perform at a high level and be recognized by USA Hockey on the Olympic Team was an incredible experience."

Playing alongside the greatest American-born players at the time, including Amonte and LeClair and 2008 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees Brian Leetch, Brett Hull and Mike Ritchter, is something Barrasso will cherish the rest of his life.

"You always knew you weren't going to put a soft one in on Tom," LeClair said. "People overlooked the fact that when Pittsburgh won those Cups, Tom Barrasso was a huge part of it all -- he made so many big saves at times when they needed them."

Barrasso finished a combined 28-12 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in those consecutive Cup seasons with the Penguins. Craig Patrick, who was the Penguins' general manager at the time, felt Barrasso was a great influence in the locker room.

"Tom was a great steadying influence on our team and he was a smart enough goaltender to realize that our game was a wide-open offensive game," Patrick told "He allowed us to play that way and never complained. He allowed our team to play 9-7 games. He was willing to play his part in order for us to be successful."

Contact Mike Morreale at
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