by Nathan Skytta || AHL On The Beat Archive
In just his sophomore season at the professional ranks, Mark Barberio has spent the last few months solidifying his spot on the blue lines that don either side of the Admirals battleship painted at center ice at Norfolk Scope Arena.
Last season, the Montreal native played in 68 regular-season games for Norfolk, registering nine goals and 31 points. Barberio, whose ice time and power-play role increased as his rookie season moved along, also made his playoff debut last April.
So far in 2011-12, Barberio has surpassed both his assists mark and his total points from last season. Barberio enters the weekend leading all AHL blueliners with 29 assists and 33 points in 35 games.
“He always brings a positive energy to the team,” said Admirals second-year head coach Jon Cooper. “Even when things go wrong, which is bound to happen from time to time during the season, Mark consistently brings an excellent attitude and determination to the arena. He’s one of those guys that, as a coach, you want in the locker room at all times.”
Along with his attitude, the 2008 draft pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning brings size to the Admirals blue line. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, the second-year defenseman uses his size and speed as an advantage against opponents.
“Along with his exuberance for the game, his size, speed, and agility have allowed him to advance this far, in just a year and a half,” stated Cooper. “He believes in himself as much as we do and he’s guaranteed to leave it all on the ice every night that he’s out there.”
“To begin with, I want to say congratulations to my fellow teammates on earning the selections,” stated Barberio. “It’s an honor to be part of a select few who will play in the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic. I don’t think that it has completely even hit me yet. It’s a feat in my life that I never thought I’d accomplish, especially in just my second year at this rank. It’s definitely something special.”
Barberio has picked up right where he left off before the Admirals broke for their 10-day break around Christmas. Leading up to the break, Barberio had registered assists in four of five games, including his third three-assist night of the season on Dec. 18 in Hershey.
“The best part about this team is that we push each other on and off the ice, and so far that’s been a huge part of our success,” said Barberio.
Barberio has one goal and six assists in seven games since the break, including points in three straight.
“Unlike last year, this year we have stayed focused on hockey prior to and after the break and continued with improving our strength and conditioning” stated Barberio. “Last year’s slump almost cost us a playoff berth and we don’t want to face that challenge again this season.”
The slump that Barberio mentioned occurred directly following the team’s eight-day holiday break in 2010. The Admirals found themselves in the midst of their worst slump of the season, going winless in their first five games following the break (0-3-1-1) and scoring only nine goals during that span.
“Last year taught us all about how important every game is,” Barberio said. “We’ve stayed focused to make sure that where we end up going far in the playoffs.”
Fast forward 365 days and this year’s team has captured eight out of a possible 14 points following their 10-day break. Norfolk enters Friday night’s contest in the hunt for their first division title since the 2002-03 season.
“It’s going to be a race to the playoffs, just as it is every year, so every game matters.”
When asked what his personal goals for the second half of the season were, Barberio stated that he wants to “improve a little more as each week passes along in preparation for what is going to be a successful second half of the season and into the playoffs.”
“I believe that personal success always comes from team success,” said Barberio. “So far this year has been a successful one. We just have to keep going in the right direction, continuing with the positives and fixing the negatives. That should get us to where we want to be come April. We believe in ourselves and each other and so far that is has led us to such a successful first four months of the season.”
If the next four months show any resemblance to the last four, then Barberio may find himself trading in the Admirals battleship for the Lightning bolt that splits the ice at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.