Many said Barrasso put a wrap on his career following a 1999-2000 season that saw his longtime team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, trade him to Ottawa for Ron Tugnutt and Janne Laukkanen at the trade deadline.
“I never said I retired,” said Barrasso. “I haven’t talked to anybody in any form of media since I left Ottawa last year. I didn’t play last year primarily by choice. We had a lot of things going on with my daughter. She had a recurrence of cancer last year and was in chemotherapy and radiation all last summer and she had a couple of surgeries during the winter as well. There was no compelling reason for me to do anything but stay at home in Pittsburgh and try to do the best we could with our family.”
Despite missing an entire season the 36-year old former Vezina Trophy winner does not view his coming stint with the Hurricanes as a comeback.
“I’ve done it twice before – the year we got locked out (1994-95) I basically didn’t play,” said Barrasso. “I had wrist surgery when we came back from the lock out. Then, I guess it was ’95 or ’96, I had my shoulder re-constructed and I think I played five games that year. I came back and was a Vezina Trophy finalist the next year. So, I’m not concerned with my physical skills at all. The primary concern for me is that I’m motivated to come back and play. That’s always been the driving force for me – myself. If my motivation is high and I feel that I have a tremendous challenge then, it’s fun for me to be able to try and rise and meet that challenge.”
Barrasso has certainly risen to the challenge in the past. The Boston native backstopped Pittsburgh to two straight Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 and led the league with 43 regular season wins in 1992-93.
So, why, after 17 years off success, does Barrasso feel the need to return to the game?
“The primary focus for me – I look at my career record and I have 353 career wins and in the National Hockey League,” said Barrasso. “400 is really the next plateau for me and there’s only a handful of guys who have ever won that many games. That’s one of the things that I’d like to accomplish. To do that I’m going to have to play and play well. That’s one of the things that has got my attention to be able to come back and make a run at winning 47 or 48 games to get over that 400 mark.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in my career as far as wins, being on two Stanley Cup-winning teams, winning the Vezina Trophy and being Rookie of the Year and all of those things. I also feel as though my skills are still of the caliber that I can be successful in the National Hockey League. If you look around there are a lot of goaltenders my age that are considered the top guys in the league so, I don’t consider age a factor. Again, I go back to the primary motivating force being that it’s a great challenge for me and I’m looking forward to it.”
Hurricanes captain Ron Francis shared the ice with Barrasso for seven seasons while wearing the Pittsburgh black and gold. Francis and Barrasso first discussed the net-minder’s return to the game last month.
“We had four or five couples together for dinner in Pittsburgh about a month-and-a-half ago and in that conversation Tommy was just saying that he was interested in getting back in the league and playing next year,” said Francis. “I suggested to him that he give our team a call because I thought we might be interested.”
Apparently the captain’s assumptions were true. Carolina’s management and Barrasso reached an agreement Monday night strengthening the Hurricanes’ depth in goal and lifting a tremendous burden from the shoulders of iron-man Arturs Irbe.
“I certainly think Tommy’s going to help us,” said Francis. “He’s proven over the years that he’s a really good NHL goaltender. He’s won two Stanley Cups and knows what it takes to win and be successful. I think he’ll work well with Archie. It’s asking a lot when you ask Archie to play close to 70 games a year. Tommy’s certainly very capable of taking some of that workload off of Archie’s shoulders and sort of giving us a real strong one-and-one ‘A’ punch which I think is really going to help our hockey club.”
Some might raise an eyebrow at Barrasso missing 2000-01 and wonder how his conditioning held up during the extended break. Both Francis and Barrasso say it’s not a concern.
“I’m probably one of the few guys that has a tendency to think he’s going to pick up right where he left off,” said Francis. “He’s the kind of guy that keeps himself in really good shape. I know from talking to him that he’s been riding the bike really hard and lifting weights and preparing for this. Certainly there’s going to be some type of rust just because he’s taken a year off but I’m pretty sure he’ll be able to work that off in August and September. When the season’s ready to roll I’m sure he’ll be ready to roll.”
“I’m aware of the fact that I didn’t play last year but I never, in my mind, retired from the game,” said Barrasso. “I wasn’t sure if I would come back or not but I always held the possibility open that I would come back and play. I don’t want to get into semantics over whether I was retired or not. The fact is that I was out of the game for a year but, as I said, that was of my own choosing. Now that things are much more back to normal with our family I think it’s an opportunity to get back and do what I do and that’s play goal.”
Carolina Hurricanes Website Reporter Kyle S. Hanlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.