He has, almost overnight, become the voice of the locked-out NHL player, even as regular-season games are on the verge of being cancelled.
Far from a Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews, Krys Barch is one of the game’s more unlikely spokesmen – one who has quite literally punched his ticket into the league and through a modest 304 games as a 12th forward on the end of the bench.
But Saturday night, Barch took to Twitter to vent his frustrations in a series of 26 messages that left the hockey world debating what he had said for much of the next two days.
It was colourful. It was alcohol-fuelled. It wasn’t politically correct.
The last thing the New Jersey Devils enforcer expected was for it to become anything more than a one-off “rant from the heart,” as he pondered his life in the game on his sofa in rural Grand Bend, Ont.
“It came out of drinking eight or 10 OV [Old Vienna beer] and a bottle of port just like so many other Canadians have done up at the cottage somewhere,” Barch said on Monday with a chuckle. “Have some beers and thoughts start rolling through your head. I just grabbed a pen and started to write it down.
“I really haven’t been following [the reaction] to be honest.”
“But I’ve had like 50 calls and tons of requests from media and all that. … I understand it,” Barch said. “You can’t make everybody happy. I wouldn’t have done it if I was looking at making everybody a fan of mine. But I think that’s what’s special about it to me. It’s what came from my heart.”
Barch’s barrage of tweets have drawn everything from derision to modest praise from media and fans, with many not finding much sympathy in a player’s tale of ownership attempting to take away a chunk of his substantial paycheque.
But his messages also provided a little insight from the bottom of the NHL totem pole, where the money can be harder to come by and the limelight a lot more fleeting.
Lockouts often hurt the little guy the most, cutting out a significant chunk of their three- or four-year careers and a season that they’ll likely never get back.
Barch said the last thing he wants is the fans’ pity and his messages were misinterpreted if they were taken that way. He realizes how lucky he is to have survived a one-year hiatus from hockey, parts of three seasons in the third tier minor leagues of the ECHL and a reluctant switch at 24 to being a fighter.
He still marvels at beating out hundreds of desperate pro players to get to play seven minutes a night for a small fortune.
“I think I do look at [the lockout] differently just because the journey is always in the back of my head,” Barch said. “All the buses I’ve rode. The waffle house that I’ve eaten at in southern U.S. an hour before a game. Things like that that maybe some other guys haven’t gone through. … You know that everyone’s got to make sacrifices.
“Players made sacrifices over the years in their lockouts. In every union, you have to. Those are things that, down the road, kids that are 22 now, when they’re 33, they’ll realize what we did and maybe they follow suit. Maybe this fight we’re in here now will benefit young guys or guys 50 or 60 years from now. Guys did that for us. And it’s our time to lead.”
As for his new-found fame, Barch insists he didn’t set out to become a controversial figure during the lockout, and he turned down most media requests he has had the past few days.
He did, however, want to offer the perspective of a player who didn’t make the NHL until 26 and who may be watching one of his last years left in the game with a beer in his hand instead of a hockey stick.
“All my buddies think we all can golf the rest of our days,” Barch said. “It’s not like that. For me, personally, I know I’m very lucky to have made what I’ve made. … I understand that I’m not an everyday person. But at the same time, the amount of money I make isn’t going to last the rest of my life. That’s all I was saying.
“The owners, their lifestyle isn’t going to change [because of a lockout]. It was more comparing owners and players, not myself and what my dad does. … [With a lockout] you have to prepare for the worst.
“My wife and I prepared for this financially a long time ago. So we’re fine for the whole year … if it comes to that. But it’s definitely not fun.”