Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Matthew Barnaby knocks heads for a living. The six-foot, 190 pounder isn’t the biggest bad boy on ice, but there certainly isn’t a larger heart in the game. Barnaby leads the league in penalty minutes this NHL season with 263, and ranks third on the circuit in fighting majors with 22, taking on all comers despite being the smaller man in the vast majority of his tussles. He’s tallied a modest total of five goals and eight assists along the way, and posted a fairly respectable plus/minus of -10 on a frightful Tampa Bay squad.
It’s been a long couple of years for the Lightnings’ leading lug nut—Barnaby’s bounced around from Buffalo to Pittsburgh and now south Florida since the ’97-’98 campaign. He entered the NHL with the Sabres back in 1992 and stayed with the upstate club for six fistic seasons, teaming up with the likes of Rob Ray, Brad May, Bob Boughner, Paul Kruse, and fiery former head coach Ted Nolan to leave no doubt as to what team was the toughest in the NHL ice wars. Barnaby racked up 80 fighting majors during his Sabres stint, including a league-leading 28 rumbles and 335 penalty minutes during the ’95-’96 season, but showed he could do damage with the stick as well as the fists by averaging 13 goals, 20 assists, and a +7 rating during his three most productive seasons in the NHL from 1995 through ’98. But Barnaby’s true arrival on the NHL map came during the ’98 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he scored seven crucial goals and led the Sabres with his raw emotion and moxie to the Cup Finals.
Now, after a few years of honoring the Penguin crest, Barnaby seems to have found a home in Tampa, playing big brother and lead strong-arm on a team with plenty of impressionable young players and an eye on moving up in NHL status. It’s a perfect fit for Barney—who became the player he is today under the tutelage of coach Nolan and fellow NHL gunslinger Ray—now that he’s looking to be that surrogate slugger for the Lightning youth.
As for the 2000-01 season in general, overall fighting numbers are up (1325 fighting majors doled out by the league’s men in stripes, compared with 1129 in 1999-2000), although with a league-high 30 squads pledging membership to the NHL fraternity this season, the numbers are a bit diluted. Joining the belligerent Barnaby in the 200 minute club this year are many of the game’s usual suspects: Florida’s hulking Peter Worrell (248 PIMs), King crusher Stu Grimson (235), Boston basher Andrei Nazarov (229), Atlanta’s tag team combo of Jeff Odgers (226) and Denny Lambert (215), Toronto toughie Tie Domi (214), and former Barnaby teammate and current Sabre swashbuckler Ray (210). On the fight card, it’s been a bruising year for Bruin bomber Nazarov (24 fights), who has quietly overtaken the league lead in battles royal from Blues rookie ruffian Reed Low (23), a throwback who led the race the entire season until last week. Close on their heels are Barnaby (22), Odgers (20), and Grimson (19).
Until Cup time, see ya in the Sin Bin!
More of this season’s best bouts . . .
Feb 23 Sandy McCarthy (NYR) vs. Krystoff Oliwa (PIT)
These blokes have gone around the block many times before, and this renewal of a heated rivalry is a long, strategic, punch-filled fracas that covers half the ice and ends with a big bodyslam by McCarthy.
Feb 24 Donald Brashear (VAN) vs. Andre Roy (OTT)
The Donald shows why many think he’s the best in the biz by blasting away at Roy’s melon with heavy lefts, forcing the Sens slugger to hit the deck in search of a hiding spot from Brash’s fusillade.
March 5 Andrei Nazarov (BOS) vs. Chris McAllister (PHI)
Naz may lead the circuit in swashbuckling, but a big right-hand haymaker from Flyer behemoth McAllister ends this fight early with the Bruin bouncer playing the bouncee in this bout.
March 10 Turner Stevenson (NJ) vs. PJ Stock (PHI)
The second time around this year for this pair of pugilists is a spirited one. Squaring off in front of the benches, both men land shots as their nearby comrades cheer them on and bang their sticks against the boards in support.
March 10 Scott Stevens (NJ) vs. Rick Tocchet (PHI)
A throwback here as two of the former top heavyweights in the fight game fire it up once more. It’s a bloody brawl that sees Tocchet clipped during the toe-to-toe exchanges, leaving the raucous Philly crowd cheering for more.
March 16 Billy Tibbetts (PIT) vs. Joey Tetarenko (FLA)
These two play bombs away and each hits the target multiple times. The edge goes to Panther puncher Tetarenko, who leaves Tibbetts a bit dazed and looking for the zebras.
March 24 Brendan Witt (WAS) vs. Matthew Barnaby (TB)
As the puck drops for the second stanza, the gloves drop between these two tough hombres. Witt and Barney square off and throw down before the fans could even get back to their seats!
March 26 Rob Ray (BUF) vs. Denny Lambert (ATL)
A nice meeting of the mallets, pitting two of the NHL’s most established enforcers. This one goes Ray’s way, with the Sabre stinger landing a bevy of blows to Lambert’s grill, resulting in a unanimous decision.
March 26 Rob Ray (BUF) vs. Jeff Odgers (ATL)
Lambert-Ray was just a warm-up for this rock ’em, sock ’em affair between two heavy hitters. Away the fists fly at center ice, knuckle-to-face, until Odgers goes over backward to give Ray another solid win.
March 29 Aaron Asham (MON) vs. Gordie Dwyer (TB)
Right off the draw these two shed the leather and duke it out for all they’re worth. Dwyer has a bigger rep, but Asham is up to the challenge and zeros in on Dwyer’s large target in this spirited draw of a dustup.
April 5 Matthew Barnaby (TB) vs. Sandy McCarthy
& Dale Purinton (NYR)
The league’s leading sin-bin occupant, Barnaby, shows what he’s made of by toeing the line with both Ranger heavyweights in the first period of a meaningless, late season game between budding rivals. Dwarfed in size by McCarthy, Barney hangs in close and delivers some nice shots—from both the left and right—to the Sandy man until they both hit the deck. Then rookie Purinton comes a-calling and gets his money’s worth as Barnaby is ready to rumble once again. He takes the center-ice decision against the pugilist Purinton, and cements his status as NHL penalty-minute king for the 2000-01 season.