Owen Barker may have blazed a quicker path to the NLL if he didn’t move to Armstrong, BC in the north Okanagan as a kid.
The undrafted lefty defender is entering his first NLL training camp after signing as a free agent. He’s 24.Born and raised in Langley, Barker played with current pros James Rahe (Vancouver), Mike Messenger (Saskatchewan) and Johnny Pearson (Saskatchewan) on ‘A’ teams in Langley’s minor system. When he moved to Armstrong at 12, Peewee ‘C’ was all the town had to offer.
“I think I scored 8 goals in my first game,” Barker laughs now. “It was a big change. We’d play all around. We played against Kamloops, Kelowna and Penticton. We’d play ‘C’ all season and then move up to ‘A2’ to compete in the provincials.”
Barker, a scrappy 5-foot-11, 205-pounder eventually found his way onto the Nanaimo Timbermen and New West Salmonbellies in the BC Junior ‘A’ Lacrosse League (54 PTS and 260 PIMS over three seasons), after dominating the Thompson Okanagan Junior ‘B’ League for two seasons with the Armstrong Shamrocks. He didn’t get his name called at the 2015 NLL draft, but the Maple Ridge Burrards of the WLA came calling next, and Barker has been biding his time and honing his craft for the pro game since.
It was near the end of the 2017 summer season when he first started thinking about the NLL.
“I realized who I was playing with and against,” said Barker who has now played in 2 Mann Cups with the Burrards (6 goals in nine games as a defender). “I realized that I could compete and do well for myself and said in the back of my mind ‘this is what I want. This is what I’m going to work for.’”
“I feel like I’m ready now. I’ve filled out. I think my game has been on point.”
It was one of the first calls that Chris Gill made after being named Warriors head coach this past summer. He’s had a front row seat to scout Barker as Gill also coaches with the Burrards.
“I’m so excited to see the young guys that haven’t had a chance, which are hungry, and I know for a fact that they’ll battle to the last whistle and they want to play,” said coach. “They’re going to be miserable to play against. I want see these guys go to battle. They’re going to impress a lot of people.”
The Warriors want to be younger, hungrier and harder to play against in 2019. Barker checks all three boxes.
“It’s not enforcing. It’s playing hard and making guys pissed off at you,” Barker smirks. “Maybe giving an extra shot during the play – not dirty – but just hitting hard and playing hard. I know that drives me nuts when you go to battle with a guy and he wants to work harder than you and he wants it more than you.”
Barker also wants to redeem the faith Gill has shown in him.
“They seemed pretty excited to have me and I couldn’t be more thrilled to join the organization,” Barker beams today. “Gilly is smart. He has insight on every aspect of the game. When you have a guy like that behind you, you want to do well for him.”
Though mostly a pure defender now, all those years carrying the weight of Armstrong’s offense have rooted a scoring touch into Barker’s hands.
“I shoot to score. I just want to be a tough D guy that’s going to push the ball up the floor and try to create some scoring opportunities in transition while playing some tough D.”
It will be a quick training camp for the Warriors leading up their December 8th home opener, but many believe Barker will be on the floor at Rogers Arena on opening night.
“It’s a great venue. I’ll always remember my first Canucks game and how wild it was. Stepping on the floor you look around and it’s kind of spectacular to see and to get to play in it.”