Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Back to where his NHL career began

Ex-Jet Barnes serves as Stars consultant

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HE was happy, eventually, to be sent away and he was eager for Wednesday's return to Winnipeg.

Former Jets first-round draft pick, 1989 version, Stu Barnes is now the Dallas Stars' hockey operations consultant and he could hardly wait for game time when he came off the MTS Centre ice after the Stars' optional morning skate.

"Haven't been here yet but I watched the first game," said Barnes, the fourth overall pick of his draft year.

"When I heard the team was coming back here, I had a lot of people asking me about Winnipeg and I'd tell them what a great city, what a great hockey town it is.

"I was glued to the set for that first game, to see that atmosphere, and I've heard the stories ever since what an incredible atmosphere it is and what a great spot it is. We're excited about seeing it."

Barnes, after scoring 285 points in his final two Western Hockey League seasons, struggled to get his foot in the door with the original Jets.

He played 108 games in a Winnipeg uniform before the GM who drafted him, Mike Smith, eventually gave up on him, shipping him off to Florida in a trade for veteran Winnipegger Randy Gilhen.

Smith was fired about two months later, but the transaction actually gave Edmonton product Barnes a new lease on life.

He went on to an NHL career of 1,252 games and was eventually captain in Buffalo and an assistant captain in Dallas before he retired in 2008.

"I think for me personally, it was a good thing at the right time," said the 41-year-old Barnes.

"I loved playing here. No doubt about that. I grew up in Edmonton, was a western kid and got drafted to a Canadian team. It was exciting. I loved it here.

"But I couldn't find any consistency, what I needed to get going, and a lot of it falls on me for not finding my way. But career-wise, when I got traded to Florida there was a third-line centre role that Roger Neilson at the time plugged me into."

Effective

Neilson helped Barnes reset his career and it turned out to be pretty effective.

"(Neilson) told me, 'Go ahead, kid. You're going to make mistakes but we're going to bump you along and keep you going.' So it was a good move," said Barnes.

"I was able to get the ice time and make mistakes and still get a chance to get back out there and I found some consistency in my game."

A former assistant coach, Barnes has had the good fortune to have a little more time for his family now as a consultant with the ability to help the Stars coaches and management wherever he's needed.

"As a coach, you learn a lot when you get out of the game," Barnes said. "Certainly on this side of it, I'm learning and I help wherever I can help."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2012 C2

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