Riley Barber and his fellow rookies in Hershey have been lighting it up all season, but lately it seems like they are hotter than ever.
Barber, who ranks sixth in the AHL in Rookie Scoring, netted his first professional hat trick at Giant Center on January 30, 2016 against the Syracuse Crunch, lifting the Bears to a 5-1 victory.
“First professional hat trick – it’s awesome to get on a roll and be confident and putting the puck in the goal,” said Barber. That’s why you play the game; it’s so fun like that.”
Two of Barber’s goals were assisted by Scott Gomez who was signed by the Bears to a PTO just 16 days before Barber’s hat trick.
Barber was quick to give credit to Gomez for the success he and his teammates have had lately. “I grew up watching him so it’s awesome to be able to play with him and just capitalizing on some chances,” said Barber.
Troy Mann, who has juggled line pairings this year due primarily to injuries, is finding success wherever Gomez is.
One week ago, on the heels of Barber’s hat trick, Gomez was centering for Barber and Nathan Walker in Binghamton where the line scored two of the team’s six goals and added a third Sunday night.
Barber said, “I think as a line, me and Walker have a lot of speed and get in and created turnovers and he kind of slows the game down and makes plays that only Scott Gomez can make, so it’s a lot of fun.”
So, on his birthday February 7, one that he shares with Walker, Barber skated onto the ice in Hershey and came close to a second hat trick an eight-day span.
After Barber scored twice on the Power Play in the second period, the 10,849 fans in Giant Center hoped to see the team’s third hat trick of the year (fellow rookie Travis Boyd netted his first professional hat trick on February 6), but it was Walker lighting the lamp for the Bears at the end of the game, ironically off an assist from Barber and Gomez.
After the game, Barber was asked if scoring those two Power Play goals was the most memorable thing he had done on his birthday. He replied, “It’s up there for sure. I got to celebrate my birthday last year playing outdoors at Soldier Field (for Miami of Ohio against Western Michigan), so that’s up there, but this is memorable too for sure.”
So the memorable moments continue for Barber and the Bears. This past weekend, Barber accounted for two goals and three assists. Boyd, who is third in rookie scoring, had two goals and two assists. Madison Bowey (53rd among rookies) recorded an assist, Christian Djoos (56th among rookies) had two assists, and Jakub Vrana, now 61st among rookies in just 15 games had two goals and an assist.
With the veteran leadership of Chris Bourque who leads the league in scoring, the 2015-2016 crop of rookies continues to flourish and score, which has propelled the team to second place in the Atlantic Division.
“We’re playing really well; the puck’s going in the net,” concluded Barber. “Our offense is clicking and I think everybody’s confidence on the team just goes way up when you’re winning like this.”
By Julie Beidler