Mark Barberio knew it was a big season for him. There was no need to add any extra pressure and think about it too much.
Barberio’s only focus a year ago was to train harder than ever, get himself as ready as he could to perform at his top level and let his game make the case for a professional contract.
“As long as I knew I gave it my best and put everything on the line,” Barberio said. “You get what you deserve in the end.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound defenseman’s physical and mental preparation produced a standout season for the Quebec Major Junior League champion Moncton Wildcats and earned the 2008 sixth-round pick a three-year entry-level deal with the Lightning.
He had no guarantees before last season, despite his good statistics. Barberio is not a big, physical hitter. He is a good skater, but doesn’t have breakout speed. He just finds a way to get the job done.
“As a sixth-round pick, he’s beat the odds already,” Moncton coach Danny Flynn said.
No reason why he can’t keep going. Flynn said a big reason Barberio continues to improve is he is “20 going on 39” maturity-wise and takes on every challenge put before him.
Barberio increased his goal totals the last three years from 11 to 15 to 17. After seasons of 46 and 45 points, the Montreal native had 60 points in 65 games this season and had a mighty impressive plus/minus rating of plus-39.
Not only do the individual numbers look good, he helped lead his team to the Memorial Cup with an outstanding postseason. Barberio contributed five goals and 22 points (third on the team) in 21 playoff games.
“[Barberio] is a good person and a good player,” said Darryl Plandowski, the Lightning’s head amateur scout. “We felt that there was enough skill there, he has lot of try in him and he’s got a chance.
“He’s the type of person who can get better each year. Sometimes defensemen don’t hit their stride until they are 23 or 24.”
Barberio showed his skill at the Lightning’s prospects camp in 2009, but he knew he had to train harder to get stronger and faster.
His biggest education came at Lightning training camp last September.
“The first thing I noticed was the strength and fitness of the pros at camp,” Barberio said. “Seeing what kind of shape guys like Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier were in and how much attention they pay to their bodies was a big eye opener for me. I realized that I had been working hard, but I knew there was a lot more work to do. I was really grateful to have the opportunity to go to camp.”
Barberio started with Cape Breton in the Quebec League, but was traded to Moncton in a deal for defenseman Luc Bourdon, who would later become a first-round draft pick. Cape Breton was loading up for a playoff run. Three seasons later, Barberio was on a team that was loaded.
This year’s Moncton’s defense was very talented with David Savard, recently signed by Columbus, and Brandon Gormley, who was picked 13th in the 2010 draft by Phoenix.
“We had an unbelievable owner, who built a class organization with great coaches,” Barberio said. “We had such a great group of guys. It was a real team-first mentality that everybody took to heart. That’s why we ended up having a successful season.”
Barberio was better physically, but he said the biggest change for him was the mental side of the game.
“I think I took big steps this year in my mental preparation before and during games,” Barberio said. “The coaching staff had something to do with that and the team also hired a sports psychologist. Once I really got a hold of how to prepare mentally before games, my game really took off.”
Moncton appeared ready to get off to a strong start in the Memorial Cup, but let a 4-2 lead get away in the final 6 minutes and lost in overtime to the Calgary Hitmen. Barberio said that tough defeat affected them in their next game against Brandon.
The Wildcats put up a great fight against the eventual repeat champs Windsor in their third game of the tournament, losing in overtime, but were eliminated.
“It was still a great experience,” Barberio said. “Not everybody gets to play in that tournament.”
Ten days after the Windsor game, Barberio was signed by the Lightning.
Barberio said he had a better comfort level at Lightning Development Camp in Tampa a few weeks ago and the things he learned will be very beneficial. He showed improved strength, throwing the eight-pound medicine ball from his knees longer than anyone at the camp. He also displayed his composure with the puck and his ability to find open teammates on the ice.
Now, it’s up to him.
“My goal is to keep developing as a player, working on every facet of the game,” Barberio said. “I’m definitely going to have to be patient.”