Cayla Barnes admitted that 2014 was the most important year of her hockey career to this point. It set the stage for a rock-solid 2015 campaign within the USA Hockey program, which in turn prepped her for another big year with the national program.
“That year  was really important and crucial,” Barnes said. “You learn so much, and I think what I learned most is that you know your role on the team, you do what’s expected of you and you do it to the best of your ability.
“It wasn’t just the memories and how much better of a hockey player I became, but how much better of a person I was. Overall that year was incredibly important and changed my life.”
As the calendar flips to 2016, Barnes is looking for more, including a second straight gold medal for the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team next month in St. Catharines, Ontario.
“I’m so excited, I think about it every day,” said Barnes, who has a countdown on her phone. “I’m just looking forward to getting with the girls, playing together and having this experience.”
Barnes is one of seven players on this year’s team who helped the 2015 squad earn the program’s fourth gold medal on home ice at last year’s tournament in Buffalo, N.Y.
That was her first season on the U.S. U18 team. She returns a leader, excited for the opportunity to help this year’s first-time players create unforgettable experiences and tournament memories.
“It was indescribable and amazing in every way,” Barnes said of last year’s tournament. “Our team had such a close bond, and I think that was one of my favorite parts. We won the gold medal and that’s an experience I’ll never forget, but we made so many friendships and we were so close.”
Barnes was the youngest player on the team, turning 16 during the tournament. She admits it wasn’t easy as a first-year player.
“There’s a lot of pressure because you have to perform,” Barnes said. “It was really good once I got there because the older girls took me under their wing. Once you get there, you feel like part of the team.”
It’s a little easier for Barnes the second time around.
“It’s definitely less nerve-wracking,” Barnes said. “The first time, you’re really nervous going in because you don’t know what the atmosphere is going to be like.
“Now you know what’s coming at you and you know what it takes to be at this level, so you’re more confident all around.”
The USA Hockey program helped her growth.
Barnes attended a player development camp in 2013 and was a Women’s National Festival invitee the following year. She also made the U.S. Women’s U18 Select Team for the U18 series before her time on the gold medal-winning national U18 team.
Another year of development camps, National Festivals and a second stint on the U18 Select Team has only helped.
“I’ve learned so much, it’s unbelievable,” Barnes said. “You play with world-class coaches and world-class teammates, so you’re always learning and getting better.
“When I got home, everything was at that level. You could tell everything was more sharp and advanced.”
Barnes, a native of Corona, California, played for the LA Selects, West Coast Selects, Junior Kings and Anaheim Lady Ducks growing up. She moved to the east coast to play at New Hampton and with the East Coast Wizards and is currently committed to Boston College.
USA Hockey has also played an instrumental role to get Barnes to this point.
“When you go to camp and play with these high-caliber players, you learn so much from coaches and players every day,” Barnes said. “Every day you step on the ice and they’re making you better.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.