Barris heading to Florida school to play in Juniors hockey league

Summer vacation is winding down.

It’s winding down really quickly for Martins Ferry’s Caleb Barris.

Though Purple Rider students don’t go back to school until Aug. 21, Barris begins classes much sooner.

A standout hockey goalie, Caleb, who will be a junior this year, has been invited to play at the prestigious Tier III Junior level.

To do so, however, Caleb is heading to Fort Myers, Fl. to compete for the Florida Eels in the Empire Division of the United States Premier Hockey League for the fall and winter.

He will be attending Pivot Charter School, which is a public school and part of the Lee County School system. It has some 200 students enrolled, not all of whom are hockey players.

“This has been my dream,” Barris said. “I am really looking forward to the opportunity. I am ready to go down and get to work and continue toward my goals.”

Caleb and his family will begin the nearly 20-hour drive to the Florida Gulf Coast Friday night.

“They start school really early down there,” Caleb said. “So, we’re working quickly to make sure we’ve got everything ready to go.”

While his parents – Del and Carla – spend a couple of weeks in Ft. Myers helping their son get settled in and enjoy a vacation, Caleb will actually move in with a host family.

“We just got the information (on Monday) and his host family is actually hosting all of the goalies,” Del said. “This family’s son is a goalie, so they’re used to having goalies around. It’s going to be a large family of goalies.”

School begins for Caleb on Aug. 8 and training camp begins on Aug. 12. The actual season begins in early September. All of Caleb’s classes, which are done online will count toward his Martins Ferry diploma.

“They try to match up what you take at Pivot to what you’d be taking at your actual school,” Caleb said. “This is the school where all of the kids who come from out of town go because it works that way.”

Caleb, who is an only child, won’t return to Martins Ferry for the first time until Christmas vacation and return to the Eels shortly after the new year. His parents have looked ahead at the Eels’ schedule and plan on attending one of the showcase events in October, which will be held in Charlotte.

“They may come up to the Hampton Roads area in Virginia, so we can make a trip there, too,” Del said. “We’re not going to see him very often. It’s not easy to see him leave, but his mom (Carla) and I are behind him. It’s not about our hopes and dreams. It’s about him. This is a great opportunity for him to experience things that many kids won’t get to.”

Caleb admits that leaving his family and friends here in the Ohio Valley for upwards of eight months at just 16 years old is tough, but he also sees the other side.

“I am so connected with hockey that I’m not quite as in touch with school and my friends at school as many kids around here,” Caleb said. “A lot of kids are centered around their friends at school and high school sports, but I’m at the rink. I don’t think it’s going to be as tough on me as it would be on someone who played high school sports and had to transfer schools.”

According to Caleb, when the season ends in the early spring, he will return to Martins Ferry and finish the school year as a Purple Rider.

“When I come back to Martins Ferry depends on if we make the playoffs,” Barris said. “It could be the beginning or toward the end of March.”

A normal day for Caleb will consist of class in the morning and then practice on the ice and weight training.

Caleb was actually spotted by an Eels’ scout during the 2011-12 season. He approached Caleb and his family about the team for last school year.

“They wanted me to come play 16U for them last year and then move up to juniors for this coming season, but it was just too quick of a move to make,” Barris said. “That wasn’t until like July when they approached me and we just couldn’t commit that soon. But, after that approached us, we thought that if we got the chance again that this something we really need to do.”

The family did make the trip south last year for a week’s vacation to tour the school, met with the coaches and organization and Caleb even through the Eels’ camp.

“It’s not some fly-by-night, seedy place,” Del said. “It’s a nice place and they do a nice job with the kids. From a hockey standpoint, I think him playing last year would have been the best thing to do, but from a personal standpoint, he just wasn’t ready. It’s overwhelming now, so I can’t imagine what it would have been like trying to do it in a month, but this kind of opportunity is what he wants and why we’ve invested the time to travel all of the miles to play.”

Caleb did play for the team in a few events despite not moving to Florida last year.

“We got an email in March of 2012 saying they were looking for players for a showcase event in Boston,” Del said. “We accepted that invitation. He went, played for them and they loved him.”

The Eels feature two teams, both of which will carry three goalies.

“They move the goalies between the teams based on who’s playing well,” Caleb said.

Barris, who is mature well beyond his years, sees the only challenge of this venture to be that fact that he’ll probably be the youngest player on the team.

“The first year you can play juniors is 16, so it’s going to be interesting from a playing standpoint,” Caleb said. “The coaches have told me that I’m going to have a lot of work to do, but I can do it.”

The main objective of the Eels hockey program is “player development.”

“They’ve put at least seven players onto college hockey teams for this year,” Del said. “They want to build the program, but placing players in college is what they’re striving for.”

Caleb was chosen to attend the national camp for goalies. He was one of two goalies picked from a 4.5 state area. All told, 20 goalies were selected.

“I’ve improved a lot over the last few years,” Caleb said. “My puck handling is getting a lot better, my movement is quicker and I’ve gotten stronger.”

Whether or not Barris will return for the 2014-15 school year depends on several factors.

“Right now, the plan is to go back if they want to have me back,” Barris said. “The program isn’t so much about keeping kids, but about moving kids along and up the ranks. It’s tough to look down the road too far because you have to take this in increments.”

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