Photos by Tori Hartman and Joe Noyes
HERSHEY, PA. — Did we just become best friends? Yep! Much like Dale and Brennan in the movie “Step Brothers,” it seems like a friendship between Hershey Bears’ forwards Liam O’Brien and Riley Barber was just that simple. In part 1 of an exclusive interview, NoVa Caps’ Tori Hartman sits down with the two Capitals prospects to discuss their close relationship and more.
As O’Brien put it, “It’s been pretty interesting. This is our third year of living together. We lived together a little bit my second year, as well, and that’s where we hit it off. I think we’re very different people, but at the same time, I think we balance each other out pretty well. We help each other in a lot of different ways, and we’ve definitely formed quite the friendship.”
O’Brien is in his fifth season with the Bears and Barber his fourth – quite a while for two players to be together at the American Hockey League level, especially with trades, call-ups, and other factors. The friendship between the two might be even more unique in that they’re both competing to make it to the NHL with the Capitals, and in doing so earn a permanent place on the NHL roster.
“It’s definitely nice to have that relationship, especially with someone who you’re competing with on a daily basis. When he [Barber] got called up, I was the happiest person for him. It’s one of those things.”
Like most athletes, the compete level between the two is evident, and they even brought a little bit of that competitiveness into the Bears’ record-setting Teddy Bear Toss Night. O’Brien scored the teddy bear toss goal for the 2017-18 season, and Barber scored the record-breaking teddy bear toss goal this season.
“We were in our apartment, and we were arguing about who’s going to score. Whenever he [Barber] tells me he’s going to score he usually goes and scores because he’s just a natural goal scorer”, says O’Brien, “So, I was like alright, well I really have to shoot the puck here if I’m going to score because I know he’s going to be on. No surprise there that he scored because I know he wanted to. It’s nice because we push each other that way, and it’s fun.”
Barber was also pretty amped about getting the goal, but not so excited about being on national TV following his fight during the Binghamton Devils game. “It was a great experience for me especially to do that in front of the home fans. I think it’s a special goal, and it’s something that I think I’ll never forget.”
“I got exposure, I guess you could call it, but being on the NHL Network a day after the fight, my face looked a little bit bruised, so I wish I was looking a little bit better, but you know, it is what it is”, he continued.
The teddy bear toss goal aside, all of this constant competition between the two can, at times, lead to some disagreements. In true brotherly fashion, O’Brien and Barber shared a few choice words at practice in the morning recently, but in the end they know, it’s just a game.
“Obviously today we yelled and barked at each other, but that’s just a normal thing – we’re out there, we’re competing against each other. That’s hockey, that’s just being an athlete. That’s just him being mad because I beat him, and you know what, when he beats me sometimes I get mad, too.”
If the two were ever looking to get a bit of separation from each other, they’ll now be spending even more time together as linemates. “Yeah I can’t get away from him. I’m around him all the time,” O’Brien joked. Barber likes the combination he, O’Brien, and Mike Sgarbossa are bringing to the Bears’ lineup. “I think that he’s [O’Brien] great for our line. He really gets up and down the ice. I think we’re just starting to find our groove”, says Barber.
In addition to being linemates, Barber and O’Brien are also alternate captains this year along with Aaron Ness, Tyler Lewington, Sgarbossa, and Colby Williams. The 24-year old forwards are considered the “old guys” of the team with such a young group in Hershey this season.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that, but it’s an honor,” Barber said, “I think us being leaders together, even the other guys like Lewington and Ness, I think we all lead in different ways, and I think it’s working out pretty well.”
O’Brien seems to particularly enjoy his role as a leader on this Bears squad.
“I think we both know that we have a leadership role here, and it’s our job to help a lot of these young guys feel comfortable, teach them how to prepare, how to take care of themselves, and how to show up consistently every day. I think we definitively take pride in that and that’s something that I find a lot of fun.”
“I love bringing energy and joyfulness, that’s what I call it. Enthusiasm, that’s a big thing for me. I think when I’m enthusiastic and I’m having fun, everyone is having fun. I think that way everyone feels nice and loose and doesn’t take anything too seriously.”
“Just have fun with it, it’s a game. I think sometimes guys can forget that pretty quickly. I just try to have as much fun as I can and keep everybody loose and that’s just something I take pride in. I love that”, he continued.
Although O’Brien and Barber are still young in their own right, it’s safe to say the younger Bears are in good hands in Chocolate Town.
Read Part 2 of the interview here.
By: Tori Hartman
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