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Barrie, defense key for Kelowna in Memorial Cup final

by Brian Fitzsimmons /

"I think it'll be another tight one.  It's the two top-ranked teams in Canada now. It'll be fun for the fans and for the players in it."
-- Tyson Barrie on the Memorial Cup final

An explosive offense has paved the way for the Kelowna Rockets to come one game away from reaching their ultimate goal.

But when the Rockets and Windsor Spitfires clash Sunday in the 2009 MasterCard Memorial Cup final (4:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Rogers Sportsnet, RDS), defensive play also will play a major role.

Neither team was able to generate an offensive flow when they met earlier in the tournament. Ryan Ellis' third-period goal was the difference in a 2-1 Windsor victory -- Kelowna's only loss of the tournament.

"I wouldn't call this revenge, but we definitely want to get them back," Kelowna defenseman Tyson Barrie said. "They came out and had a good game and we're ready for them.

"I think fatigue was a huge factor in that game. We played two games in two nights, but that shouldn't be an excuse. Our power play wasn't really clicking like in the past games. We're going to have to be physical."

Executing a strong defensive game plan begins with Barrie, who is ranked No. 52 among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's final list for the 2009 Entry Draft.

"I think it'll be another tight one," Barrie said. "It's the two top-ranked teams in Canada now. It'll be fun for the fans and for the players in it."

Barrie recorded 12 goals and 40 assists in 68 games this season, followed that with 4 goals and 18 points in 22 Western Hockey League playoff games, and his 4 points (all assists) in three games at the Memorial Cup ties him for the scoring lead among defensemen.

While some of his accomplishments have been overshadowed by teammate and Dallas Stars prospect Jamie Benn, who leads the tournament with 5 goals and 8 points, Barrie quietly has become the championship's largest factor.

According to Central Scouting's final list, only two players competing Sunday rank higher than Barrie -- Windsor defensemen Ellis (No. 16) and Jesse Blacker (47).

"He's a really skilled defenseman," Benn said of Barrie. "He's been one of our key players this year. He's a good offensive defenseman and we're going to depend on him a lot."

If the Rockets intend on halting Windsor's three-game winning streak, the defense corps must shine.

"We're confident going into the game and we know what we can do," Benn said. "It was a tight game (Tuesday) and both teams tightened up defensively. We'll expect the same (Sunday) and we're just going to try to create opportunities."

While Windsor sat atop the Ontario Hockey League standings all season en route to winning the league title, Kelowna was a bit of a surprise to get this far. The Rockets' 98 points placed them third in the Western Hockey League's Western Conference, and they had to get past the higher-seeded Tri-City Americans, Vancouver Giants and Calgary Hitmen to win the league title.

"I think it started at the beginning of the year," Barrie said. "We came in with high expectations. … We've gone through a lot of adversity and we're fortunate to have made it this far."

Aside from his talent, the 17-year-old Barrie also possesses a favorable pedigree.

His father, Len, won the 1989-90 WHL scoring title with 185 points in 70 games with the Kamloops Blazers. He played 184 NHL games with four different teams, and now is a co-owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tyson Barrie's strong showing in his rookie campaign with the Rockets in 2007-08 sparked his reputation as a gifted offensive defenseman. In his first full season he had 9 goals and 34 assists in 64 games playing alongside current Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner Luke Schenn.

The 5-foot-10 Barrie has continued to improve through offseason training with Rockets alums Shea Weber and Josh Gorges.

Obviously, Barrie would like to venture into the world Schenn, Weber and Gorges currently live in. That journey will begin at the 2009 Entry Draft, June 26-27 in Montreal.

"He's got a lot of good role models in his life, like his father," Benn said. "He's also very mature for his age, so I think he'll handle (the draft) well."

Before Barrie can think about his future, there's the chance to bring the Memorial Cup back to Kelowna for the first time since 2004.

"Right now I'm more focused on winning games here," Barrie said. "We're all focused on the team. Once this winds down, I'll think about (the draft). I'm a little anxious and a little nervous to see what happens."

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