D-man mak­ing an im­pres­sion

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Terry Frei Terry Frei: tfrei@den­ver­ or @TFrei

Seven weeks ago, Avalanche de­fense­man Mark Bar­be­rio was play­ing in his home­town, Mon­treal. The Cana­di­ens, by far the mar­ket’s mar­quee pro fran­chise, were des­tined to make the play­offs in their bid to win the Stan­ley Cup for the 25th time.

“It was re­ally spe­cial,” Bar­be­rio said Wed­nes­day at the Fam­ily Sports Cen­ter. “I grew up a huge Cana­di­ens fan. I had the chance to sign with them, and I jumped all over it. I had to work my way into that lineup for both sea­sons that I was there. I’m proud that I was able to wear their col­ors.”

Bar­be­rio joined the Cana­di­ens as an un­re­stricted free agent in July 2015 af­ter play­ing two full sea­sons with the Tampa Bay Light­ning. In 2015-16 and again this sea­son, he di­vided time be­tween the Cana­di­ens and the St. John’s Ice­Caps of the Amer­i­can Hockey League, es­sen­tially as an or­ga­ni­za­tional in­surance de­fense­man. But he wasn’t able to lock down a long-term spot on the Cana­di­ens ros­ter.

“They have a lot of depth over there,” Bar­be­rio said. “Last year, there was a bunch of in­juries and I got a chance to play more. This year, go­ing into the sea­son, ev­ery­one was healthy and it was a tough lineup to crack. But then there were some in­juries and when I got to come in, I did my best with the min­utes that I was given. I was play­ing more like a third-pair D and I was al­ways do­ing what­ever I could to help the team, but in the end it wasn’t enough.”

Af­ter the Cana­di­ens ac­quired Nikita Nes­terov from Tampa Bay and An­drei Markov came off in­jured re­serve, Bar­be­rio was the odd man out. When the Cana­di­ens put him on waivers to send him to St. John’s, the Avalanche claimed him Feb 2.

What a con­trast. He was go­ing from one of the top teams in the NHL to one hav­ing a his­tor­i­cally hor­ri­ble sea­son.

“This is a sec­ond chance, and I’m just try­ing to make the most of it,” Bar­be­rio said.

There have been few pos­i­tives in the Avalanche sea­son, but Bar­be­rio has been one of them. It’s a back­handed com­pli­ment that a de­fense­man the Cana­di­ens con­sid­ered ex­pend­able now is play­ing with Erik John­son in Colorado’s top pair­ing — and it’s on merit. He had his sec­ond goal in 24 games with Colorado in Tues­day’s 4-2 loss to St. Louis, and go­ing into the Avalanche’s Thurs­day home game against Ed­mon­ton, he is av­er­ag­ing 20:40 of ice time. He also is a re­spectable — at least on this team — mi­nus-4.

“I think he’s been pretty good,” said Colorado coach Jared Bed­nar. “He helps us in a lot of ar­eas. You look at his abil­ity to move the puck and con­trib­ute to our of­fen­sive scheme, I think he’s fit­ting in. He de­fends hard and we’re ask­ing a lot of him, play­ing in the top pair and log­ging min­utes against some of those top guys he’s got to de­fend. But I think he’s do­ing an ad­mirable job.”

Wingers Matt Ni­eto, claimed on waivers from San Jose in Jan­uary, and Sven An­drighetto, ac­quired from Mon­treal for An­dreas Martin­sen on March 1, both have ex­pir­ing deals, and if the Avalanche makes them qual­i­fy­ing of­fers, they could be re­stricted free agents July 1. Or the Avalanche might just let them walk. Those are au­di­tions. Bar­be­rio’s sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent: He is in the first sea­son of a twoyear, $1.5 mil­lion con­tract.

“If you have a two-year deal, some­times it’s harder to get picked up,” Bar­be­rio said. “Teams don’t want to be locked into that sec­ond sea­son. I think that was a good sign that Colorado still wanted to pick me up and they be­lieve I can be part of the fu­ture.”

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