WHITE TWP, Pa. — As the Indiana Chiefs got their 2017-18 season started against Meadville on Thursday, there wasn’t a lot familiar with the situation.
The Chiefs were playing Meadville, a high-scoring team newly promoted from Division II. They were adjusting to the loss of several top players from a 15-4 team a year ago.
One of the few constants? Starting goaltender Madison Barker. Barker and the rest of the Indiana squad faced a difficult challenge in stopping the Bulldogs’ offense. The game ended with a score of 5-1, but had it not been for Barker, head coach Jordan Haines believes the game would have been far more out of hand.
“If it weren’t for (Madison) in net, this game probably would’ve ended 15-1,” Haines said.
Haines noted that Barker’s play was a bright spot in an otherwise confusing night. The Indians bench boss has been extremely proud of his second-year starting goaltender, but like every g0od coach should do, Haines has been working with Barker to help her continue to improve her game.
“Madison is a fantastic goalie,” Haines said. “We’ve been working with her quite a bit this offseason trying to get her to come out the net more and be a more active goalie. She’s getting out of her comfort zone and developing her game a little bit more.”
Barker said that the adjustment has been difficult for her, but the junior netminder is doing her best to be comfortable with the switch.
“You just have to have that confidence,” Barker said. “I’ve been working on it a lot in practice. I just have to push through even if I’m not 100 percent comfortable with it yet.”
One area where Barker does excel at is surveying the ice and keeping a close eye on the puck.
“I think I’m pretty good at tracking the puck,” Barker said. “I just try to keep the pucks out of the net, and if I can do that, there’s a better chance we can get our own pucks in the net.”
A DRIVING FORCE
Barker was peppered with shots throughout the game against Meadville, facing 28 shots in total. The task certainly was not easy, but Barker did her best to persevere through that game and continued to make important saves to try to keep her team in the game.
One problem that Haines noticed from his club was that whenever Barker did make an important save, his team failed to receive much momentum from it.
“Most of our team is too young to get that spurt of energy when a goaltender makes a big save,” Haines said. “She made some big saves, but even our bench didn’t get energized by her play.”
Haines believes that is something that can be fixed, and that Barker possesses the talent for some highlight-reel saves this season.
AN UNLIKELY ADVANTAGE
There aren’t many female players in the PIHL, but Haines is extremely proud to have Barker on his squad. When Indiana played for the Class A Penguins Cup championship at the end of last season, Barker became the first female goaltender to ever play in a PIHL championship game. Haines believes that having a female goaltender is not only a good thing, but it could almost be an advantage.
“It’s better,” Haines proposed. “She gets her own locker room that she gets to herself. She’s goes in there, plays a couple video games on her phone, and gets focused for the game.”
Barker agreed that getting her mind set before a game is important, and she said she has her own small rituals to help her get ready before a game.
“I just listen to music and do a little warmup before a game,” Barker said. “I just try to do my best to keep my focus.”
Barker has only begun her journey in net, and while she plays on both a team and league composed primarily of boys, the young goaltender still marvels about what an amazing opportunity she’s been given as a trailblazer.
“This means so much for women’s hockey,” Barker said. “I’m so honored to be a part of this team.”