At 6’4 210 pounds it’s hard not to notice Eli Barnett when he steps on the ice.
The towering talented 17-year-old defenceman from Riverview, New Brunswick is locked in when it comes to accomplishing his hockey dreams.
The dream to play pro hockey fuels many young Maritimer’s path in the game. That dream is quickly becoming a reality for Eli Barnett.
With all the uncertainty around the hockey world and the outlook surrounding COVID-19, Barnett and his family decided to apply his craft closer to home this season while holding on to his NCAA eligibility.
It’s been a win-win for everyone involved especially the South Shore Lumber Jacks.
“The league has done a really good job so far with COVID and how they have handled it,” Barnett said.
“The Maritime Hockey League is really good for development. I know here in South Shore, the coaches are really focused on what the players need and what they want to get better. The development so far has been all player based,” stressed Barnett.
“The coaches design their practices on what specific aspects we need to work on. They have done a really great job at that so far. Overall the MHL is great, the competition is really good. It’s a great place for me to be this year in terms of everything going on, it’s great for my development,” explained Barnett.
The Lumber Jacks have got off to a rocky start, but Barnett isn’t concerned and sees things turning around quickly.
“Even though the results aren’t showing, it’s still a great time here in South Shore – not just being able to be around the guys and develop, but being able to play hockey right now during these hard times is great,” Barnett said.
The smooth skating, rangy, two-way defender might be out of the lineup right now with an injury, but he had certainly made his presence felt in the MHL in the handful of exhibition and regular season games he has played for the Lumber Jacks. The MHL continues to be underrated and understated as a developmental junior hockey league.
More and more elite levels players from Atlantic Canada are choosing the MHL as a stepping stone for their development and hockey career which certainly bodes well for the game in this region.
With the likes of Eli Barnett, Josh Nadeau and others, the MHL is quickly gaining traction in the junior hockey world.
There’s no question Barnett understands the value of growth and development. The well-spoken kid from Riverview understands and accepts his place in the game and where he wants to go.
Barnett is willing to trust the process in order to reach his hockey dreams, which not only reveals his maturity, but his character, passion and love for the game.
Many young players of Eli Barnett’s skill and stature become entitled and feel like the game owes them something. That couldn’t be farther from the truth in Barnett’s case. The down to earth blueliner is locked in when it comes to putting in the time and effort to accomplish all of his hockey dreams. Those lessons were firmly entrenched early on in the game by his parents Barb Ells and Dave Barnett along with several coaches along the way.
Every young aspiring player needs a mentor someone that they can trust. For Barnett that list might be small, but very impactful.
“My Novice I and II coach, James Robinson helped me out a lot.”
“James was always around, he was there for me since day one and always thought there was something there.”
Former South Kent coach John Hutcheon also played a vital role in Barnett’s current path.
“John played a big part in my success on and off the ice. He was always there for me in the toughest and hardest times being away from home. Whether it was on or off the ice he always there for me,” said a reflective Barnett.
“On the ice John really pushed me to get better each and every day.”
Given his progression in the game and focus on development, what might the future hold for Barnett and where does he see himself playing next season?
“I’m choosing the college route because a lot of players that play college hockey are really talented and for me, being a bigger guy, it gives me more time to develop while also focusing on the education I need in case hockey doesn’t work out in the future,” Barnett said.
“I think that aspect is big part of why I’m deciding to go to the NCAA, more time to develop and getting an education,” he added.
How important is it to be patient when it comes to skill development?
“You know I think the biggest thing is that you don’t want to rush it. You will progress throughout the game at your own pace,” Barnett said.
“You don’t want to base yourself off how fast other guys are going, you want to focus on what you’re good at and find out what your weaknesses are and work on those aspects of your game. For me skating was a big challenge,” admitted Barnett.
“Every summer I would go to the Island and really focus on my development especially my skating to really get the technique down.”
Barnett believes his experiences at Andrews Hockey Growth Programs drastically altered his path in the game. “Those experiences changed my entire game. That didn’t happen fast, that took years and I think that’s really important for guys coming up to realize that things don’t happen overnight. It takes years for it to happen and I think that’s what young players need to realize that it’s not instantaneous.”
“Allan and Josh really made that a special experience. When I went over there I had just started playing hockey.”
Barnett was able to complete the training necessary to become a demonstrator and instructor at Andrews, which means a lot to the young star defender.
“I really want to thank Josh and Allan for that, they are great people and I appreciate everything they have done for me,” Barnett said proudly.
Barnett’s progression over the summer months have been truly outstanding as of late which speaks volumes to his work ethic and unwavering desire to improve. Like many young elite players from Southeast New Brunswick, Barnett chose to join Pro Evolution Hockey to continue to grow both on and off the ice.
“I’ll be with them hopefully for next few years and ongoing,” Barnett said of Derek Cormier and Rick Leger and the entire staff at Pro Evolution Hockey.
“Derek and Rick are really great guys. Rick really knows what he’s doing in the gym. He’s focused on the players and our wellbeing.He really helps me achieve what I want to do on and off the ice. On the ice Derek is a true pro. He really knows what he’s doing. Derek has taught me a lot about character and he’s helped me with the skills I need to learn, he’s a really great guy.”
There’s no question Barnett possesses all the tools to be an effective blueliner at the pro level.
Barnett’s journey in the game might be considered unconventional to some given the allure of Major Junior hockey, but he remains focused on taking his own nonlinear path in the game.
Nevertheless, some current NHLer’s have definitely provided inspiration over the years.
“I always looked up to Zdeno Chara,” Barnett said. “He’s a big guy like me.I tried to base my game on him and Tyler Myers.”
“Like those two guys I try to use me size to my advantage while being skilled at the same time.”
“I think they both have good vision on the ice and that’s what I wanted to be like when I got older,” Barnett said proudly.
Hockey dreams are often shared and the sacrifices are shared as well. Leaving home at a young age often comes with the territory. Barnett left home at 13 years of age to attend famed Notre Dame prep school. “That was tough for me, it was the first time I had been away from my parents, but Notre Dame was great and all the guys were great too.”
The following year the Barnett and his family decided a move south of the border would be the best option for his continued development.
“South Kent was a different experience than Notre Dame, but it was a good one. The relationships between all the guys on the team at South Kent and Notre Dame was very similar. All the guys were there to support each other.”
“I think the main thing for kids that are leaving home at an early age is that they have to realize that they will get home sick, but in the end it’s for the better. The experience at those schools was incredible and it’ll be worth it in the long run.”
Sports have been a way of life for the Barnett family something that both Eli and his sister Lily never took for granted.
“Growing up, both Lily and I were super athletic so my parents would give up every week night and weekends to drive us to our practices or go watch us play and support us.”. Lily Barnett is an accomplished basketball player and is just starting her high school career this season.
“Mom and Dad were always there for both of us offering support in school or in sports.”
All the hard work, dedication and sacrifices are starting to pay dividends for Barnett. The hulking defenceman is already drawing some attention from NHL scouts. Barnett definitely has room to grow no pun intended his NHL Draft year is in 2022. There’s no question his game and style of play is certainly trending in the right direction.
“Personally, it would mean the world to me,” Barnett said of getting drafted into the National Hockey League.
“Growing up I never thought I would be something in hockey, but as the years have gone on, I see there are opportunities.”
“My parents have been there for me the entire time and I would really have to thank them if that ever was to happen. They have helped me so much and supported me all the way up through.”
Growth, patience and an unwavering passion and love for the game have Eli Barnett locked in when it comes to accomplishing his dreams. The dream is within reach, but the process continues.