A steady scorer who never topped 100 minutes in penalties in junior, Barch realized fulfilling his NHL dreams would require a different approach.
“I took a year off hockey and I started in the Coast [ECHL],” Barch said. “I scored more points in junior than I ever fought. My wife and I were about to have a kid and I started looking at the stat pack and there were two X’s [signifying they had been called up] besides the 30 guys that were the leading scorers in the league. Then I looked at the fighting majors leaders and there were two X’s out of five guys. So I said I might as well play the odds. The first fight I think I broke the kid’s nose and I just kept going from there and here I am.”
Fortunately for Barch, who is in Boston Thursday to make his debut with Florida after being traded from Dallas on Wednesday, he got a helping hand in his transformation into an enforcer from one of the guys he could be battling in his first game as a Panther.
Barch joined the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals in 2004-05, where current Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton was the resident heavyweight. Thornton took Barch under his wing and helped ease his transition to the new role.
“[That was] way, way back when we were in Norfolk,” Thornton said. “He always played very hard, and when you play that hard, you’re going to be pressured into getting the gloves off every now and again, so I gave him a couple tips that I could bring over to help him.”
Barch played just nine games with Norfolk that season, but did rack up 37 penalty minutes and had five fights as he put Thornton’s advice into practice. By the 2006-07 season he reached the NHL with Dallas, and over the last six seasons he’s played 263 games in the NHL with 10-16-26 totals and 578 PIMs.
“I’ve got to say, Thorts was kind of the guy who taught me a lot of stuff,” Barch said. “When I first started when I was in Norfolk, for the 10-15 games he was there he worked with me after practice and stuff like that. When I came up there he kind of saw what I was trying to do and showed me some things. He had a little bit to say in terms of where I am now.”
While they’ve remained friendly off the ice, it’s still all business when Thornton and Barch meet up inside the rink. They’ve fought three times in the NHL, once in Barch’s first season when Thornton was with Anaheim and once each in the memorable fight-filled games between the Bruins and Stars on Nov. 1, 2008 and Feb. 3, 2011.
“I played with him,” Thornton said. “So we’ve fought a few times, usually pretty good fights, but there’s no animosity there. It’s just two guys doing their job.”
In their last encounter, Thornton did quite a job on Barch. They squared off in the second of three fights in the first four seconds of that game, and Thornton showed he obviously did not teach Barch everything he knew. Barch was on the wrong end of a one-sided decision, and suffered a broken orbital bone in the bout. Barch has no ill will over the fight though, recalling the game with a smile.
“It was pretty exciting last time, yeah,” Barch said. “I know Thorts there from playing down in the minors with him. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, how could you do that?’ But I love it. Even if you lose a fight you’re still getting an adrenaline rush. It was a lot of fun. It’s always fun coming into an Original Six building and laying it on the line and having a good challenge.”
When a Florida reporter noted that Barch didn’t bear too many marks from his past encounters, Barch joked, “We’ve got some good plastic surgeons down there in Dallas.”
But Barch was more serious when the question about the need for fighting in the game of hockey was raised.
“I think fighting’s been around for about 100 years in hockey, right? So I don’t know how you can say it’s not [an important part of the game],” Barch said. “And this city here, they sell out their rink every night and there’s a reason there’s why there’s thunder that runs through their crowd and it’s not all about goals. That’s one thing, when I met my wife she said, ‘Thank god you play a man’s game, so hopefully they keep it that way.’”
Barch probably won’t have to worry about a lack of fights on Thursday, as he returns to the scene of two of the wilder games he’s played in for his debut with the Panthers.
“It’s kind of a funny coincidence that this is the first team I play against here,” Barch said. “The way Boston plays fits my style, so I enjoy these games.”