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Steelheads Barlow brings farmer's mentality to hockey

by Lindsay Kramer /

"What you like about him is he's a fierce competitor. When you pull him aside (for) a teaching point, he really takes that in. He's got that farm mentality of hard work. He takes that into his game."
-- Idaho Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal, on Evan Barlow

Hockey players and farmers always find some extra work to do. Which is why it made perfect sense that during what was supposed to be a break from his sport last week, Idaho rookie forward Evan Barlow was clearing off snow from a pond on his farm.

Barlow got out his snow blower and did battle with a foot of the white stuff that had accumulated on the rink-to-be at his family's 5,000-acre grain and cattle plot in Strathmore, Alberta. A couple hours later, it was ready for some pickup hockey.

''The family's getting in tomorrow. We have all ages out there, from 5 years old to 50,'' he said. ''That's the way of life here. I still get challenged out there, don't worry. It (his status as a pro) pushes them harder.''

Friends and family or not, you can be assured that even at 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Barlow shoves right back. Any reaction short of that would stun Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal.

It isn't just his predictable commitment to hockey on his vacation that marks Barlow as a keeper in Laxdal's eyes. It's the work ethic and feistiness that's spelled out in the other half of his DNA, farming. You get out there early, stay as long as the job takes and elbow your way to a break-even point, at the very least.

Barlow, 24, is well ahead on that count. He is tied for fifth among rookie scorers with 27 points (12-15) and shares the newcomers' top spot with seven power-play goals. His let-'er-rip philosophy is as earthy as a freshly planted crop -- he also leads rookies with 104 shots.

''What you like about him is he's a fierce competitor. When you pull him aside (for) a teaching point, he really takes that in,'' Laxdal said. ''He's got that farm mentality of hard work. He takes that into his game.''

Barlow started getting dirt under his nails at an early age - one of his jobs was to clean up after the cows - but he doesn't let the whole dawn-to-dusk stereotype get too far along. He and his older brother, Blair, were helpful but not hard-core when it came to chores.

''We always joked around. We were fair-weather farmers, me and my brother,'' Evan said. ''We did it when it was nice out. We didn't get too crazy. I don't mind doing a job right. It translates onto the ice, little things. The most successful guys are the ones who work.''

The family obviously pushed that philosophy when it came to schoolwork. Blair graduated from Harvard and works in the private equity field in Connecticut; Evan earned his diploma from Cornell.

''He's the brains of the operation. We're going to have to say that,'' Evan admitted. ''I don't know about (Blair's) common sense, but (he has) book smarts.''

Evan sat at the head of the class when it came to applying himself in hockey, and that's reflected by his quick and surprising offensive development. In his first three seasons at Cornell, he potted 15 goals total. As a senior, he found the back of the net 13 times, an effort that was just a hint at his pro coming out party.

''They (his college teammates) carried my scoring the first three years. When my opportunities in college came along, you have to take it,'' he said. ''You have to find a healthy combination between work ethic and skill. In college, everything is very methodical in the way you play. You watch a ton of video. You go over a game so much. It helps you learn how the game is played.''

What Barlow picked up most of all was that once he proved himself in the Big Red's defense-first system, it was OK to start honing a shot that he'd display proudly and often.

''I don't think my shot really gets to where it is now without the steps I took in college,'' he said.

''Your coaches are always telling you to work on your shot. I came to the realization that if everyone is telling you to do it, you might as well do it. I read something, a quote, you have to play the percentages. If you shoot 100 times, and (convert) 10 percent, you are going to have 10 goals. I'd like to think I pass as much as I shoot. I don't know if my teammates agree with me.''

The voice that matters most, that of Laxdal, has no issues with Barlow's approach. When Laxdal was looking for help to fill out his roster at the start of the season, he relied upon a recommendation from one of his former players, Taggart Desmet. And wouldn't you know it, Desmet grew up a good buddy of Barlow right across from that very same pond that Barlow skated on.

Taggart told Laxdal that he had to take a look at Barlow, and the tip was a winner.

''His skating is very good. His possess an American League, NHL shot. And he's good at following up,'' Laxdal said. ''He's a complete player. We want to recruit the high-end, character kid. He fits into that mold.''

In a pattern that's repeated itself throughout his career, Barlow's biggest test has been proving that sometimes size in an illusion.

''I am small, but I don't feel like I play small,'' he said. ''I feel like I can play with the big boys and always have. It's a state of mind. You can't get wrapped up in size. At times it's been tough. But not to the point it wanted to stop me. Obviously, people are excited about the 6-4 guy who can skate. You just have to make sure you try to be better (than taller players).''

Barlow's numbers this season have emboldened him in that area, and the foundation on which they are built suggests his rapid improvement is a sturdy climb.

''The transition from college to this, it's doable. You go into every season expecting to do well,'' he said. ''You get into the ECHL, you are obviously looking to take the next step. For me to be able to do that, I have to be able to score. I hope to be able to translate that to every level.''
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