It was a moment that took years to achieve, but it might have gone unnoticed if not for the timely click of a camera in a hallway of a hockey rink in Calgary.
Happily, there is a photo of Cayla Barnes, a member of the Olympic champion U.S. women’s hockey team at Pyeongchang, holding up a blue USA jersey with a “C” affixed on the left shoulder, celebrating her selection as captain of the U.S. under-22 select team’s series last week against Canada. Standing beside her is Dominique Petrie, holding a predominantly white USA jersey. Petrie’s version also has a “C,” signifying her status as captain of the under-18 team for its three games against Canada.
The significance is in the backstory. Barnes, 19, grew up in Eastvale and played for the junior Kings bantam-AAA team, the junior Ducks and Lady Ducks. Petrie, 17, of Hermosa Beach, won two world championships with the U.S. under-18 team and played for the junior Kings, junior Ducks and San Diego Gulls at various ages. Their dual honors put them in the forefront of Californians who are playing hockey at the highest levels.
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it, to think about it,” said Art Trottier, vice president of the Ducks’ The Rinks program and president of the junior Ducks and Lady Ducks. “If you look back for a while, you’d never think you’d see two girls from California being captains of their teams in a tournament like this.”
A few Californians have played for the U.S. women’s Olympic team. Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Angela Ruggiero of Simi Valley won four medals, and goaltender Chanda Gunn of Huntington Beach won bronze in 2006. Annie Pankowski of Laguna Hills played on two world championship teams. Among the men, Jon Blum of Ladera Ranch, who in 2007 became the first player born and reared in California to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft, played for the U.S. at Pyeongchang. Another noteworthy player is Beau Bennett of Gardena, chosen earliest among California-born-and-trained players at No. 20 in 2010. He played 200 NHL games before signing to play in Russia this season.
Talent trickled out of California then. Now, it surges through junior leagues, colleges and the U.S. development program, fueled by investments by the Ducks, Kings and San Jose Sharks in youth and high school programs and the coaching of NHL players who have settled here, including Hall of Fame defensemen Rob Blake and Scott Niedermayer, and forwards Craig Johnson and Nelson Emerson.
The Ducks’ high school hockey league, launched with one team nearly a decade ago, could expand to 50 teams this season. Only a few girls participate, but an all-girls team from Rosary Academy in Fullerton might join for 2019-20, Trottier said.
“It’s great to see the game growing, for sure,” said Barnes, a clever defenseman who will soon return to Boston College to resume the studies and college career she interrupted to join the U.S. national team last October. “There are a lot of girls coming out of Southern California that are going to Division I schools and are making it to the national program.”
Barnes began playing hockey to follow her older brothers but quickly displayed special talent. “If you’d seen her when she was 10, you’d know it,” said Kathy McGarrigle, who coached her for the Lady Ducks. “She was a 10-year-old playing 12-and-under for me at the triple-A level and she would quarterback my power play at nationals. Where she keeps going is not shocking to me at all. Her leadership skills are extraordinary.”
Barnes and Petrie are helping obliterate the fading stereotype of California hockey players being inferior to their East or Midwest counterparts. “People can joke and say California is soft,” Petrie said, “but people are starting to realize that the development in Southern California and California as a whole makes it a tremendous place to grow up playing hockey and develop your game to be able to take you to the next level.”
Unlike Barnes, who left home early to attend prep school and advance her career, Petrie stayed in Southern California. She played alongside boys almost exclusively but never felt out of place. “I was very fortunate in all my teams to not really be seen as an outcast, like, ‘Oh, you’re a girl, we don’t really want you,’” said Petrie, who will soon be a freshman at Harvard.
To Johnson, a former Kings and Ducks player and one of Petrie’s coaches, she stood out for her work ethic, not her gender. “The first time I met her I noticed right away how driven she was,” he said. “She would work on her game. She would shoot pucks, she would work on her stickhandling, she would continue to work on her skating and her compete level was really, really high. She wanted to win. She wanted to compete. She had a no-quit attitude about her and she was a very talented player. She was a centerman and she played a 200-foot game. She could defend really well. She took pride in her faceoffs and defensive play.”
And she never backed down when the going got rough. “I remember one time we had a fight,” Johnson said. “Something happened after a game and somebody punched somebody and Doms jumped in there. She was the first one in. She protected her teammates, as well.”
Petrie laughed at that. “I’ve had a couple of scrums in my days,” she said. “I’m definitely one that if you’re snowing the goalie late, if you’re throwing a late hit, I’ll be the first one to stand up for my teammates because I really do see each one of them as a member of my own family. Maybe not blood family but we all are related.”
Barnes’ under-22 team swept its games against Canada while Petrie’s under-18 team won one game and lost the other two by a goal. Next up for both will be college, which means they’ll face each other for the first time. They’ve practiced together and played together on a U.S. under-18 team and hope to be teammates on the 2022 U.S. Olympic squad. “I’m super proud of them and their accomplishments,” McGarrigle said. “All of the Southern California girls have come really, really far.”