Barnaby putting up fight for teammates, Cup
How did Matthew Barnaby come out of nowhere to survive a 14-year NHL career against the world's biggest and best players? Fearlessness.
The undersized 33-year-old winger has made a career out of taking on everyone and anyone who comes his way.
In this week's "Facing Off," the gloves are off as the Dallas Stars spark plug tells us how he racked up nearly 500 minutes of penalties in one season, why he has little love for fellow Dallas agitator Terrell Owens and why Mother's Day will always hold special meaning for him.
Question from David Amber: I read that your mom made some huge sacrifices to help make your NHL dream come true. What kinds of things did she do?
Answer from Matt Barnaby: I grew up in a single-parent family, and having a mother that worked full time, it was tough to get the money necessary to play in the hockey tournaments and get me all the equipment. So, she put her needs aside so I could play hockey. It was a big sacrifice.
Q: You were barely on the radar of scouts and GMs as a minor league hockey player. You were selected in the 20th round of the Quebec midget hockey draft. Describe what it took to beat the odds and just make it into Major Junior.
• Barnaby was selected in the fourth round (83rd overall) by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1992 NHL draft.
• He has accumulated at least 150 penalty minutes in a season nine times in his NHL career.
• He scored a career-high 19 goals with the Sabres during the 1996-97 season.
• Among active players, he is second only to Chris Chelios in career penalty minutes.
• Along with retired NHL player Rob Ray, Barnaby owns a construction company in Buffalo.
A: I was thinking I would play high school hockey and maybe get a Division II or III scholarship, but as it worked out, I was just lucky to get drafted. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I was 17 years old, going away for the first time. I showed up at camp and realized the guys were much bigger and much stronger than me. I weighed 148 pounds in my first camp. The hockey was so much better than what I was used to. There was no way I would make the team unless I did something special, so I decided on my own that my only chance was to get noticed. So, I had 13 fights in the first three days of camp. The coach came up to me and said he would bring me in as an extra on the team, kind of like a "Rudy" thing. Fortunately, the coach liked me and I never had to sit out a game. The rest is history.
Q: What's it like to play in the same city as the Cowboys?
A: They are definitely at the forefront. We are just behind high school football in popularity, so it's a little different [laughs]. But the Dallas fans are very passionate and into the game of hockey. We get great attendance. There's still a buzz here in Texas. People may not understand the game as well as Canadians or Northerners do, but they are passionate about it.
Q: Just like Terrell Owens, you have a huge fan base and many detractors. What do you think of T.O.?
A: I just think he's gone overboard. You have to be a good teammate, and I don't know if he is a good teammate. I love the antics, I love the celebrations after touchdowns, because I think fans love it. The kids love it, my son loves it; but at the same time, you have to be a good teammate. After everything I have seen him do with guys on his team, I'm not sure he is a good teammate. So, that's the part that bothers me. I don't really know the guy, but the persona I get from him is that he's not a good teammate, and that's the part I don't like.
Q: You aren't shy of the camera. When your playing career is over, is it safe to say you will be a hockey analyst?
A: It's definitely something I would like to do. I have done stints with ESPN and The Score in Toronto, and I really enjoyed it. It's much more difficult than I anticipated. Guys who have made the transition will tell you it takes time, patience and studying, too, but it's something I am interested in getting into.
Q: A lot of tough guys end up in the broadcast booth. Why do you think that's the case?
A: I just think a lot of us tough guys have sat there for years and watched a lot of hockey. While the other players are playing, we're watching, so we know the players better than anyone [laughs].
Q: Right now, you are out of the lineup with a concussion suffered during a fight. Is there ever a time when you turn down an offer to drop the gloves?
A: I try to fight to change the momentum of the game or to stick up for a teammate. There is always a time when it's not right in a game to fight, so you have to turn it down. If I said "yes" to every fight I've been offered, I would probably be in 600 fights a year because everyone is trying to get at me. If it's not for sticking up for a teammate or trying to help this team win, I don't see any justification for it.
Q: One season in Junior, 1991-92, you amassed 476 penalty minutes in just 63 games. How is that possible?
A: That year, it was probably one win and 51 losses in the fight category column [laughs]. In Junior, you need to get your name out there and promote yourself, and obviously, I was barely able to even make the team. So, I had to figure out a way to get my name out there, get people talking and hopefully get scouts noticing, and then the rest of my game would show after the scouts were there. I had to do a lot of fighting to get a reputation early.
Q: You have had more than 200 fights in your NHL career. Does any one battle stand out in your mind?
A: I always loved fighting guys like Adam Graves and Mike Keane. When I was young, I was just so excited to be here. They were emotional fights; they were toe-to-toe; and the buildings were jammed. It was great. I also liked fighting the heavyweights, too. I had a running feud with Lyle Odelein through the media, and I fought guys like Tie Domi. I didn't always win, but it was always exciting to fight the super heavyweights I grew up watching, too.
Q: You have spent more than 42 hours in the penalty box. That's a lot of time.
A: [Laughs.] That is a lot of time! I should have taken some notes while I was in there.
Q: Only one active player has more career penalty minutes than you.
A: Yeah, Chris Chelios.
Q: Wow, you are all over this.
A: I study the game. But he's like 65 years old, right? [Laughs.] I always had the goal of getting to 3,000 penalty minutes and 300 points. I'm right on 300 points. Now, I need some more minutes, so we'll see if I can get it and catch Chelios along the way.
Q: You've played for seven NHL teams. Which city has the best and worst hockey fans?
A: By far, Chicago was the worst place to play, just because there is no one in the building anymore. When I started in the league, Chicago had the old Stadium fans. It was an electric place to play, but there is just no one in the building right now. It's too bad because they have good fans, but they are so mad at the owner that no one is coming out. As for the best fans, I have to say playing in New York for the Rangers was amazing. We had a losing team for years, and we still sold out the Garden every night. It was awesome. New York is a pretty amazing place to play.
Q: Being a Buffalo girl, your wife might not like that answer too much.
A: I know. Hopefully, she won't read this [laughs].
Q: Some people who follow hockey say, as an agitator, Sean Avery has taken a page out of your book. But he's been accused of taking things too far at times, as well. What's your opinion of Avery as a player and person?
A: I think he is a very good hockey player, and I hope he doesn't read this because I don't want him to know I think that. He's a good skater, he sees the ice well and I like the edge he plays with. I don't mind how mouthy he is. The one thing, again, is you always have to be a good teammate and be there for your teammates. From what I have heard around the league, he isn't always that. I hope he has a long career and makes a lot of money, but he has to straighten himself out and become that team guy that everyone expects him to be. As for talent, he could play in this league for 15 years with the way he plays.
Q: You are known as a world-class trash-talker. Who in the NHL can verbally go toe-to-toe with you?
A: Chris Simon is very good. He doesn't say much of anything, but when he does talk, he has great one-liners. He goes right at your throat, he'll go right at your family, he'll say anything. Also, a guy I play with, Steve Ott -- he's pretty cutthroat, too. Those two guys can really talk it up.
Q: Have you ever said or done something on the ice that you regretted to a point where you actually wanted to make an apology to another player or coach?
A: There was a time in the minors when I said something I regretted, and after the game, I waited for the guy and apologized. I went over the line. Once in the NHL, I did it too, and the same thing. I waited for the guy and let him know how I felt and that I was wrong. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, you say things and do things because you're into the game emotionally and charged up. Once you get time to cool down, you think it over and then you apologize.
Q: Did they accept your apology?
A: Yeah, both times they did. They understood where I was coming from, and they appreciated that I stepped up and owned up to my mistake.
Q: You are always accessible to the media and the fans. What's the strangest fan experience you have had?
A: Wow, that's a tough one. I've had some stalkers, people camping out around your house, picking through your garbage. That happened when I played in Buffalo. It was weird coming home and finding them hiding in the bushes and going through your stuff. I had to call the police just to make sure I'd be OK. I also had death threats from Philly fans when we used to play them in the playoffs. That was the scariest it ever got to for me.
Q: What happened?
A: The fans would call your hotel room in the middle of the night or leave messages. It got to the point where I had to unplug my phone. It was really weird.
Q: During the 1998 playoffs, you had a hat trick for the Sabres against Montreal. What do you remember most about that game?
A: It was my first hat trick. It was cool because it happened on Mother's Day with my mom in the crowd, and just four days earlier, my wife had given birth to my first son, Matthew Jr. It was an exciting time for us. I was young, didn't know much, and was just happy to be in the NHL. That was definitely one of the highlights of my career. Hopefully, I can get a Stanley Cup. That's still the ultimate goal for me.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.