The 37-year-old hockey veteran has traded in his jersey and skates for a suit and tie this season as the Stars’ newest assistant coach. The younger players, green to the league, serve as Barnes’ main focus in his first coaching position.
Les Jackson, co-general manager for the club, said he thinks the coaching position suits Stu very well: “He’s not only a coach, he’s an extension of the team since he played last year. He’s a dad to some of the players, a brother to some and has developed trust with some of the individuals. When it’s tough, he’s there for them and directs them through the obstacles.”
In his 16 years in the NHL, Barnes learned how to overcome and conquer obstacles for the sake of his team and teammates. Playing for the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres and finally the Stars, he solidly held down roles on both the power play and penalty kill, as well as both ends of the ice at even strength.
“I always call him a glue player,” Dallas Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s a player that can play in a lot of different situations. As a coach, you’re looking down the bench in a certain situation and looking for a player you know you can rely on to get the job done. Stu was always one of those guys you can rely on and we’ll certainly miss him in that aspect.”
His chameleon-like abilities as a player have helped ensure a smooth transition from player to coach, and Assistant Coach Mark Lamb, considered similarly versatile to Barnes during his playing days, said the move is a natural one.
“When you’re a player like that – you’re a hard worker, you’re honest, you’re respected by your teammates and you’ve always been a leader on every team you’ve been on – you’re doing a lot of coaching and you don’t even know it,” Lamb said. “Just talking to somebody, you’re doing you’re job and that’s what he’s done for his entire career, even though he didn’t know it.”
With 1,136 professional games (329 with the Stars), 261 goals and 336 assists to Barnes’ name, his teammates also respect his hockey knowledge and experience, as illustrated by Steve Ott
, who has skated with Barnes off and on for the last handful of years.
“He was a leader and knew the X’s and O’s of the game,” Ott said. “He was the kind of guy that would look over his line, know the guys he was playing with, all of that part of the game. He was a very intelligent hockey guy besides being a player, so I think transition-wise, he already had that instilled in his game and now he’s just transferring that into the coaching side.”
Although the players bond on the ice, friendships evolve behind closed doors, and Mike Modano recalled Barnes’ eternally positive presence in the in the locker room, especially with the fresh faces.
“He was good at keeping everyone poised and calm,” said the highest-scoring American-born player in NHL history. “I think young guys tend to get really excited and lose their energy before they get on the ice, and he was the guy that would try to keep everything even-keel and [get them to] save their energy until the right time. He’s just a real good guy in the locker room as far as getting guys prepared and being that guy that everyone can come in and talk to.”
Barnes admitted that he, along with the younger players on the Stars roster, such as Loui Eriksson
, Joel Lundqvist, Mark Fistric
, Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Grossman, share in the transition process. As those players advance into new and increased roles in the Stars’ franchise, Barnes said he plans to focus on guiding and leading them.
“I think being prepared and realizing that this is their job, that this is what they want to do and to do that, you have to be in that mindset all of the time,” Barnes said. “Whether it’s preparing as far as nutrition, your rest, your recovery, your workouts, how you approach your day … they have to realize that this is the real deal. At this level you need to be your best all of the time, every day. There can be no ‘two days on, one day off.’ It’s a competitive game on the ice and it’s a competitive game off the ice as well.”
Being a professional on the ice is obviously paramount, but there are also numerous off-ice demands, and Barnes will be among the foremost examples of that for younger players.
“Playing in arguably the top league in the world, young players have to be humble, respect the organization, the league, represent the game and the other guys on the team and do what’s right for the team even away from the rink,” Jackson said. “Players participate in the community, which helps represent themselves and the team as a whole very well.”
Barnes said he already misses being a player: “I think about all of the day-to-day stuff. The competition is a big part of it and, as a player, you thrive on that. Hanging out with the guys as far as going through all of the bumps and bruises … that’s the thing that really intrigued me about being able to do this. I’m still around the room; not in the same role, but at least I have the opportunity to be at the rink every day and around the ups and downs of the season.”
After 16 years in the NHL, Barnes decided it was time to hang up his skates, content to recall the several fond memories, indelible highlights and unforgettable moments. With six seasons as a Dallas Stars player under his belt, he now sets his sights onto his next years with the franchise, albeit in a different role.
“I think it’s a brand new thing and I’ve got some time to learn and see what it’s all about,” Barnes said. “And then who knows? I’ll go from there. When the time comes after a few years and I enjoy it, then maybe I’ll try to keep doing it, or just see how things work out at that point in time. But for now, I just want to learn as much as I can and do all I can to help this team win. That’s what it’s all about. I’m excited. I’m very excited.”
So are the Dallas Stars. And maybe now, Barnes’ 8-year-old son will come around after all with his dad’s coaching.