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Barnes using own experience to help Stars through pressure of playoffs

The assistant and former Dallas center still loves the thrill of the postseason as much as he did in his playing days

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Stu Barnes has had his fair share of great memories in his life, helping Team Canada win the gold medal in the World Juniors in 1990, playing with the upstart Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, and playing with the Buffalo Sabres against the Stars in the 1999 Cup Final.

And while those thoughts are always with him, he also likes the fact he's forging new memories as an assistant coach.

Barnes, 48, is in his second season with the Stars after also serving as an assistant coach in Dallas from 2008-11, and said he loves the thrill of the playoffs and helping the Stars get better.

"I think it's as close to playing as anything you can do, so that's fun," Barnes said. "The intensity on the bench is there, the excitement, the emotional investment, that all feels very much the same."

And because he has so many experiences in the NHL, he's been able to do his new job very well. Barnes played in 1,136 NHL regular season games and another 116 in the playoffs. That allows him to establish a strong relationship with the players.

Video: Stu Barnes brings young perspective to Stars bench

"He's definitely someone we can relate to. He's been in these games, so he knows that pressure, and he's also been on long playoff runs, so he knows about the highs and lows that you go through," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "That's great to me. The more experience you have going through stuff like this, the better for everyone."

Barnes doesn't have just playing experience. He has served in several roles since his retirement in 2008, and has learned the ropes along the way. He started as an assistant coach with the Stars under head coach Dave Tippett and then stuck around through two seasons under head coach Marc Crawford before moving on to serve as head coach of Okanagen Prep Academy.

He then joined Ken Hitchcock's staff in Dallas last season and has been a valuable holdover for Jim Montgomery this year. Barnes is currently on the bench with a headset on, communicating with both Vernon Fiddler as the eye-in-the-sky in the press box and Kelly Forbes in the video room. He then directs information to Montgomery and fellow assistant coaches Rick Bowness and Todd Nelson.

"I'm sort of the catch-all of everything," Barnes said. "What I try to do is sort things out and help the other coaches and the players. It can be something we see on faceoffs, something we see on D-zone exits -- Forbesy is always talking about D-zone exits -- anything we get from the press box, it can really help in the middle of a game to make the adjustments we need to make."

Barnes said his experience in every aspect of being an assistant coach helps him in his current role. He has run a power play, he has been the man calling out forward assignments on the bench, he has been upstairs talking to the coaches on the bench. He said he tries to lean on that experience and also tries to build on that experience.

"I've been fortunate to do a little bit of everything, and I think that helps you understand all of the different roles," Barnes said. "One of the first things I learned was from Dave Tippett and how much he wanted to keep learning, keep developing, keep improving. That has stuck with me over the years and I've tried to do the same thing."

Of course, the players like the fact that he has experience on the ice, as well. Barnes was the fourth overall pick (by Winnipeg) in the 1989 draft and has played with everyone from Teemu Selanne to Mike Modano to Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux.

"At first, when I got here, I didn't know his history," said forward Jason Dickinson. "But then I started looking into his career and I was just so impressed with everything he has been through. He has so much to offer us from his experience, and I try to take advantage of all of that."

Dickinson said he loves talking to Barnes, and said sometimes he gets new ideas just from casual conversations. Montgomery stresses the feedback between coaches and players, and Barnes is perfect in that role.

"Personally, I've used Barnesy a lot. He's like the big brother for me, so I can talk to him about everything, really," Dickinson said. "We go down and break down film and I bounce stuff him and Fids a lot and then pick their brains and get a different perspective. He's so easy to talk to and sees all sides of the game from both playing and coaching, and it's great to be able to get that perspective from him."

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Barnes said one of the best parts of being an assistant coach is watching young players develop. He said that it's great not only to make a suggestion that helps a player make a play immediately on the ice, but that the long-term improvements in players like Dickinson and Roope Hintz are just as important.

"To me, the best part of the job is when you see growth in players," he said. "When you have been there with a player and talked to him every day, and then someone like Roope or Dickie, they take the next step and figure things out, that's pretty rewarding. Everybody has their strengths, and I think if you can add to that and use your mind to help them use their strengths, that's a good thing."

A good thing that can extend your playing career for a long time.

"It's such a different animal than playing the game, but at the same time we can't play the game anymore," Barnes said. "So you learn the job, and you learn to really enjoy the job, and you work for times like this. I've always loved being around hockey.

"I've felt lucky my whole life, and I continue to feel that way."

For complete postseason coverage, visit Stars Playoff Central.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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