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Road to the NHL: Mark Barberio

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Dan D’Astoli speaks of Mark Barberio often. And, with good reason.

D’Astoli was Barberio’s coach in the Pee Wee, Bantam and Midget AAA ranks. Today, he’s a family advisor focused on helping youngsters hoping to one day make their NHL dreams a reality. Mark was one of those kids around 16 years ago.

Mark Barberio [right], celebrating the Chrysler Cup victory with the Lakeshore Panthers.

“If I had the right to use just one word to describe Mark, it would be that he’s a winner. At 11 years old, he won the provincial championship and all kinds of tournaments,” explained D’Astoli, who coached Barberio with the Lakeshore Panthers, then with the Lac St. Louis Lions. “I was surrounded by good players. There was Mark, Louis Leblanc, Alex Killorn and Lauriane Rougeau. I was always lucky to have such good players and such powerful teams.”

Those players have suited up for a combined 455 NHL games. And, in Rougeau’s case, she’s claimed an Olympic gold medal, which makes D’Astoli’s statement even more impactful.

For his part, Barberio has also benefitted from the fact that he’s surrounded by quality people in addition to his teammates and coaches, especially when it comes to his parents.

“I’ve always said that behind every elite athlete are elite parents. That was the case with Mark. His parents supported him through everything, without interfering in hockey,” said D’Astoli, who coached minor hockey for 25 years before finally putting his whistle away in the 2000’s. “When Mark was playing minor hockey, he wasn’t known as the best player in the league. He was among the best defensemen. Yet, he still went a lot further that most of the guys his age back then.”

It was during that run, towards the age of 13, that Barberio really cemented his playing style, transitioning from his role as a defensive defenseman to that of an offensive-minded rearguard. That all came as a result of his coaches, of course.

“He always went for the play with the lowest degree of risk. When we saw the full extent of his talent, we decided that we wanted him to take risks and skate with the puck. He was an excellent skater. He did it, and it really helped him become a more offensive defenseman,” explained D’Astoli. “His work ethic, his behavior and his attitude were exemplary. He wasn’t just good at hockey. He was also structured and he had success in school.”

For D’Astoli, that success is a reflection of Barberio’s work ethic and especially his will to win, pure and simple.

“I remember one year, for two different tournaments, we were forced to play three extra periods when the game wasn’t decided in regulation time. We were playing 3-on-3 and Mark was on the ice one out of every two shifts, with only 30-second breaks in between,” explained D’Ascoli, who often used Mark in that situation to benefit from a defenseman with a penchant for offense. “He was sick in between periods in the dressing room. But, every time he looked at me with a thumbs up saying that everything was fine and that he could keep playing.”

While D’Astoli now focuses primarily on counselling young players, he’ll always remember the impact Barberio has had on his life. Likewise, the Canadiens’ blue liner will forever recall D’Astoli’s influence on him, too.

A prankster in the dressing room, Barberio was serious when the situation called for it.

“Dan was one of my first coaches and he was a one-of-a-kind motivator. He really prepared his players well for games,” recalled the Canadiens’ No. 45 on the subject of his former coach. “He’d often reference passages in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which he always brought with him to hockey. I remember the line: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.””

Those passages resonated with Barberio to the point where he went out and bought the book upon his arrival in St. John’s to join the IceCaps at the start of last season.

“He said that he read the book all the time and that he learned new things every time he read it, too. So, I bought the book in a bookstore when I arrived in St. John’s. I never had the chance to read it, by the way, because I came home for the Christmas break and I didn’t go back,” said a smiling Barberio, who isn’t planning on returning to a bookstore in St. John’s anytime soon after signing a two-year deal with Canadiens that should have him visiting local shops in Montreal instead.

These days, D’Astoli is happy to see Barberio playing in his own backyard, and he admits to changing the frequency of his visits to the Bell Centre somewhat.

“The Canadiens went out and got a guy who knows how to win,” admitted D’Astoli, who was already a big Canadiens fan before Barberio joined the CH. “I went to see a game and I sat near Mrs. Beliveau. I was just four rows up from the players’ bench and I saw Mark on the ice. It made me very, very happy.”

And, D’Astoli can relive that happiness time and again by coming to the Bell Centre to watch his former charge ply his trade game after game.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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