David M Singer
Jul 26, 2004
Hockey fans know Matt Barnaby. Itís hard not to, as you can usually hear him up in the rafters or through your television yapping at someone on the ice. It doesn't take long to see his name adorned on the backs of sweaters. Legions cheer him on no matter what team he plays for, some who hated him just days earlier. He's a player any hockey fan would want on their team. He can instantly become part of any rivalry, hated by the opposition, in just one shift.
Hockey player, agitator, fighter, heíll wear whatever title you like as long as you put him out on the ice. About 190 pounds of heart skating around willing to do whatever it takes to win the game and win some fans in the process. That willingness is undisputed. Since 1996-97, Barnaby is tied for fifth on the fighting majors list. Making him an asset to any team, he happens to have more points then anyone else in the top ten.
Matt was kind enough to take some time during his summer to share some of his thoughts on hockey and his career with me.
David Singer: This offseason was the first you signed with a new team as a free agent. What were factors in making your decision?
Matthew Barnaby: The main thing was what was best for me and my family. The Blackhawks offered me the best financial deal and still allowed me to stay on the east coast which was important. My wife and family can fly back to Buffalo in about an hour - that is nice when I am on the road.
Singer: Larry Brooks of the NY Post reported you were also talking to the Rangers and Islanders before signing with the Blackhawks. While you've stated many times how much you enjoyed your time in NY Ė the Islanders? Are on-ice rivalries buried that easily?
Barnaby: I think my agent may have had a bit to do with that. It is all about leverage. Kind of like poker. I thought I would be back with the Rangers and we were pressing the Rangers hand. They folded.
Singer: Along the rivalries line - you were head-to-head with Eric Lindros many times, yet became close with him in NY. How difficult is it to change teams and befriend a former foe?
Barnaby: It is way easier than you would think. When I arrived in New York, Eric came right up to me and shook my hand, smiled and said ďHello.Ē I was a bit apprehensive, but he made it easy. Everyone has a job to do. There are many guys I have fought, then spoke to after the game - no big deal. It's my job.
Singer: Flip-side: you started your career playing with Rob Ray, only to square off against him later on. Is that difficult to do?
Barnaby: He kind of sucker punched me. You need to realize that I had fought Rob many times while we played in Buffalo. Whether it was when I was coming up or kind of goofing around. He taught me a lot. Itís kind of like wrestling with your kids, but a bit more intense.
Singer: One trash-talking-nickname that always makes me laugh is you calling Lyle Odelein "Cornelius". How'd that rivalry start? You two hadn't fought for a few years until this season - has that died off or is it all about opportunity?
Barnaby: I do hate that guy. I really do. He was very disrespectful to my wife, which goes way over the boundaries. I call a guy everything in the book, but I leave his family out of it. He hurt my wife. I have no respect for him and I will fight him on or off the ice. And it is hard for me to enjoy Planet of the Apes, because he is in it so much.
Singer: A recent rival seems to be Arron Asham - is there anything to that or is it just two guys on the ice in the middle of a team rivalry?
Barnaby: It was a rivalry and he wants to get his guys going and I want to get mine. I think I aggravate him a bit.
Singer: Is the Islanders-Rangers rivalry the most heated you've been a part of?
Barnaby: It is pretty damn good. We owned them last year though! We had some nice Buffalo - Philly games, but MSG was as good as it gets!
Singer: One last "rivalry" question here: while with the Penguins you had some words with Eric Cairns on the ice, and then again in the hallway off the ice - any story behind that?
Barnaby: I was jawing at him, making fun of his manhood and he reached through and punched me. I was shocked. I went after him, but others jumped in. I thought we were just arguing, but he got overly provoked I guess.
Singer: In Tampa you were used sparingly in a fourth-line role. When you were traded to the Rangers, were you told "you can be a hockey player again" or did you just have to plug in a few goals to get a chance for more time? How does that change your approach to the game and how you practice?
Barnaby: The Rangers brought me back from oblivion. They were very respectful and gave me a chance. I think it is under-appreciated how important ice time and good lines are. There are great players out of the league, because they never got to play with a good line. In Buffalo we had a guy - Jason Dawes - who was on the first line and had like 30 goals. He gets traded and is out of the league within a year. What happened? 30 goals to out of the league. It could have been me - itís all about situations.
Singer: Do you feel your reputation has hurt you or helped you when going to a new team?
Barnaby: I think it has helped. I stir things up. I think I relate well with the fans. I believe I am good in the dressing room. There are few guys who can skate, score and are willing to fight. And, I am a bit of a yapper.
Singer: What was your favorite line to play on? Where would you rank your line with Chris Simon and Lindros?
Barnaby: Lindros and Simon was fun. Skill and power beyond belief. I played with Jagr in Pittsbugh - that was alright! Think about this - I have played with Hasek, Jagr, Lemieux, Lindros, Messier, Holik. Those are some above average players - yes?
Singer: Does having teammates like Rob Ray or Dale Purinton and Chris Simon make it easier for you to play your game? You obviously don't mind fighting your own battles, but is it different with a big heavyweight out there?
Barnaby: It makes life way easier. I can be even more mouthy than normal. I can know that if my teeth get removed, they will get payback. Itís like having a big brother standing behind you. You may not have noticed, but I am usually 4-5 inches shorter and 50 lbs lighter than guys I fight. I need all the big brothers I can get.
Singer: Did you think Purinton's punch on Cairns this past season was a sucker-punch?
Barnaby: To me a sucker punch is one that comes out of nowhere and no-one expects it. I think Cairns should have expected it.
Singer: You're a player who's all heart, no matter what the situation - where does it come from? How do you get yourself into each game?
Barnaby: I play with fear of not being able to provide for my family. For me it was the NHL or cleaning floors. I had no back-up plan. My Mom mortgaged our house twice to keep me in hockey. I have many friends who did not make it. Itís tough. I approach every game like itís my first. I also try to remember that there are fans that may only see one game this year and they are in the stands tonight. Tickets aren't cheap. I want them to say "That Barnaby tried his best every shift." I want the blue-collar guy to relate to me... if they could skate, hopefully they would play like me!
Singer: Few seem to talk as much as you do on the ice, certainly during a fight - what are the most common things you're saying out there?
Barnaby: That is kind of an area I don't get specific on. I get in a trance - I never shut up. Remember that kid that you could not stand that just yapped and yapped. I am him. In grade school, an older kid had me on my back with his knees holding my arms and shoulders down. He told me to "give up" and I refused. He punched me in the face. I still refused. He must have punched me 10 times and I kept spitting and laughing at him. The crowd that gathered couldn't believe it. I never gave in and they finally broke it up. I never had a father - I was an angry kid. I am stubborn over pain. It hurts, but I refuse to stop.
Singer: What about your stamina? You look like you're just trying to wait out many guys during a fight, waiting until they tire to make your move.
Barnaby: That is exactly what I do. I try to make big guys get tired. The longer the fight the better chance I have!!
Singer: You've got some of the most loyal fans in hockey. How much of a boost do they give you during the season?
Barnaby: My "Barnabyís Brigade" is the best in hockey. Seriously. I think they are the most organized fan base in hockey. I may not have the most fans, but mine are the most connected. I have a website and they chat, share pictures and keep message boards going. I have never been anywhere - including Japan - where I have not seen a Barnabyís Brigade shirt. It astonished some teammates. We are in San Jose and they see three or so shirts and they just roll their eyes!
My fans are always positive and I appreciate them very much. I will sign and talk pretty much anytime. I owe that and more to the fans.
Singer: Flip-side: you also seem to relish being the enemy at times. Can it be just as much fun being hated as being loved?
Barnaby: It's all about being noticed. Philly is great to play in because I get more attention than anyone. Hey - If I was a Flyer, I would never pay for dinner in Philly - I know that!
Singer: You interact with the fans a lot - there are many Matt Barnaby quotes on the internet and plenty of sites where you've written in to say hello. Are you a big web surfer? How often do you check out the fan sites?
Barnaby: I go in streaks. I usually do it at night.
Singer: How's Little Matt's hockey career going?
Barnaby: He is a very skilled player, but really small right now. He is 6 and can drive a golf ball 95 yards. He was the last cut for a little league all-star baseball team for 8-10 years old.
Stop into my site whenever you want - mattbarnaby.com. New York was awesome... time to turn the page I guess.
Tons of thanks to Matt for taking the time to answer our questions and to his family and the Brigade, who keep him going.
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