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Socially Distant Diaries: Cayla Barnes

We sat down with Cayla Barnes in the first of several interviews in a brand new series discussing life as a women’s hockey player during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has put the women’s hockey world on hold. Despite a handful of schools, like those in the Ivy League, delaying the season’s start until January, a handful of NCAA D-I conferences have already announced their intent to host a regular season of college hockey, including the WCHA and Hockey East.

It’s safe to say that with so much about the return to play up in the air, the status of women’s hockey across the board is largely in flux.

For Boston College junior defender Cayla Barnes, the uncertainty of the upcoming season didn’t totally change her offseason plans. Since she started at BC, she’s spent her summers in Reading, Mass., instead of returning home to Tennessee. And this summer wasn’t any different.

“I live with my best friend [Robert Morris forward] Michaela Boyle, because her dad is my trainer,” Barnes explains in her interview with The Ice Garden. “So I can train and take a summer class at BC and stuff like that.”

While living with your trainer might be some athletes’ nightmare, Barnes has enjoyed spending time with the Boyles and staying in shape as the college hockey season rapidly approaches. Naturally, though, the uncertainty of the first few months of quarantine meant that gyms and training facilities were still closed, so Barnes was largely relegated to training around the house. This presented a unique set of challenges.

“We had to do a lot of body weight circuits and had to tie bands to like, hooks in the ceiling and stuff like that,” Barnes recalls, and mentions that while she had a lot of the necessary equipment lying around the house, it was hard to find the space to do all the offseason workouts she was assigned.

As rinks and gyms gradually started to reopen, Barnes slowly resumed skating skating, playing 3v3 with local college kids and a handful of national team players on Tuesdays and participating in Cyclones Arena’s brand new summer league on Thursdays.

“Usually we don’t get games in the summer, so it was nice to have a consistent, weekly thing that was like solid competition and good pace and what not,” Barnes says, and adds that it was really fun to reunite with familiar faces, like Olympic teammates Kali Flanagan and Megan Keller.

Past and present Boston College players Haley Skarupa, Cayla Barnes, Kali Flanagan, Megan Keller, and Emily Pfalzer celebrate their 2018 Olympic gold medal victory
Kali Flanagan (via Twitter)

Of course, there’s only so much an athlete can do to keep fit without regular access to training facilities, meaning many hockey players are indulging in new hobbies during their excess of down time. Some, like Barnes, have leaned into creative expression while stuck at home.

“One thing I’ve really gotten into this quarantine is painting,” she says.

What started out as a simple way to pass the time quickly evolved into an addicting hobby.

“I was just bored one day and then we kind of got hooked on it. I’m like, obsessed with it,” Barnes says, laughing. “We would throw on something on Netflix or throw on some music and just sit there painting for hours. It would just pass the time really well, and it was honestly addicting.”

While some amateur artists cite the greats as their inspiration for picking up the palette and the paintbrush, Barnes instead says she drew inspiration from items of personal significance — most recently, her subjects have been the BC logo and elephants, which are her favorite animal.

“I’ve been painting tables and then I’ve been painting canvases and hanging them up around my room and stuff like that,” says Barnes. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Despite a relatively stable routine and a fun new hobby, we all have things we might do differently if we had to relive quarantine from start to finish — whether it’s quarantining in a different location or with an entirely different set of people.

“I definitely wouldn’t quarantine with someone else [besides the Boyles],” Barnes says firmly, but adds that if she had to pick a current teammate to add to the mix, she’d invite fellow Eagle Kelly Browne or Team USA’s Megan Keller and Kali Flanagan. “We get along really well and I wouldn’t mind being quarantined with them for six months.”

When asked which rival she’d want to quarantine with (based on a question suggestion from Twitter), the choice wasn’t as easy.

“I’d probably want to be quarantined with [Marie-Philip] Poulin, just to get to know her,” Barnes says at last. “Just to like, kind of pick her brain because she’s so good.”

What with the cancellation of the 2020 World Championship and all of the uncertainty surrounding the return of women’s hockey players to the international stage, it’s unlikely that Barnes and Poulin will be squaring off on the ice — or quarantining together — any time soon.

Michelle Jay

For the time being, it’s business as usual as Barnes heads back to BC and prepares for her junior season with the Eagles.

“It’s been almost six months now since we’ve been off campus ... I’m excited to be back.”