Skating with the Penticton Vees has reminded free agent defenceman Cam Barker of his junior days.
“Everyone is having fun,” said Barker, who played 72 games with the Cornwall Colts in the Central Junior Hockey League.
Barker, who has played 310 NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers, lives in the area and is waiting to sign his next contract. For now, he feels lucky enough to join the Vees during practices at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
“It’s good to be able to practice with a team rather than being out there by yourself or with a couple of guys,” said Barker, a first round pick, third overall by the Blackhawks in 2004. “Keep the hands going.”
Barker, who has skated in the area all summer, has friends that helped him connect with the Vees to make it happen. He said skating with the Vees is a little bit different.
“These guys are young. It’s great being around them,” said Barker, adding that the team looks good. “They are having a great time and are eager to learn. Obviously if you can help guys out, it’s a great thing.”
Barker said the Vees defence looks good and has something in common with Paul Stoykewych. They are both from Winnipeg.
“We’re from the same neighbourhood so we talked a little bit,” said Barker.
Stoykewych said it was pretty cool meeting Barker and skating alongside an NHL player. During their conversation about their neighborhood, Stoykewych discovered that his gym teacher is Barker’s best friend. So far Stoykewych hasn’t asked Barker too much about playing defence.
“I’m just kind of watching from afar. The guy works hard,” he said. “Does all the little things. He has made it and has played in the big leagues for a while. He knows what he’s doing.”
Stoykewych said he doesn’t intend to drill Barker with questions, just continue to watch him and pick up a few things.
“They are looking good. They have had a couple of good practices here,” said Barker. “Working hard and hopefully that pays off this weekend for them.”
As for himself, he will continue to skate with the Vees until he signs his next contract.
“There has been some interest. It’s about finding the right fit for me,” said Barker, who enjoyed playing for the Canucks last season. “It’s just a waiting game at this point. There’s a lot of vets that still need to sign. It’s an unfortunate situation.”
Barker said the NHL’s reduced salary cap is a reason he is still waiting to catch on with a new team.
“Things are going to work out here shortly,” he said.