On a fast clip, Miami freshman Barber is aiming for a W.Pa. trip home

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Riley Barber just wants to see the Consol Energy Center.

He had a chance to get an up-close view in late December when his Miami University squad took part in the Three Rivers Classic tournament.

However, Barber opted out of the trip home for a short stay in Russia, where he helped Team USA capture gold at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“It was an unbelievable tournament and an honor to be part of it. It's something I always watched when I was growing up, and it was pretty awesome to come out with the win,” he said. “I would have loved to play (in Pittsburgh). I haven't even been in Consol yet. It would've been awesome, for sure.”

Barber still might get a chance to skate in front of family and friends at the Penguins' home. The NCAA Frozen Four tournament will take place there April 11-13. At 15-6-5, Barber and his RedHawks teammates are challenging for a CCHA championship and a postseason run.

A freshman winger, Barber has been impressive in Miami's first 26 games. He was tied for the team lead with 26 points (9 goals, 17 assists) in 24 games played. He missed two RedHawks games in Pittsburgh while participating for Team USA.

The 26 points rank him first among NCAA freshmen.

“I couldn't thank the program and the coaches enough for giving me the opportunity, especially my teammates. They have been great, and we have been on a roll,” he said. “My goals are oriented around the team and, if the team does well, the individuals do well. And, hopefully, we'd get to go to the Frozen Four and I'd get to play in Pittsburgh after all.”

Barber's appearances in the area have been limited in recent years. He grew up in Washington, Pa., but moved when he was in seventh grade with his family to Michigan to help further his hockey career. Many of his family members remain in the Pittsburgh area.

“Moving wasn't the easiest thing to do, but it worked out to this point. I think it was a good decision. I come back every Christmas and Thanksgiving when I can,” he said. “The main reason was just to play hockey at a high level. (Vince) Trocheck and I left the same year. Detroit hockey was just better. It was just to play against better talent.”

Barber was one of four Team USA players with local roots at the WJC tournament. John Gibson (Whitehall), J.T. Miller (Coraopolis) and Trocheck (Upper St. Clair) joined him on the squad.

“It was pretty awesome to have those guys there and experience that tournament with them,” Barber said. “We grew up playing in the same rinks. To have four guys who used to play together come back together on a team like that, you just don't see it happen a lot. We all had good chemistry, and I think that's what good teams are based on.”

For Team USA, Barber finished with three goals and three assists in seven games. It was just the third gold medal for Team USA in the tournament's history.

“It's always great to say you had a part in winning the thing,” he said. “Just to be seen as that kind of player and get that kind opportunity is great. I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity.”

Hockey success is in Barber's blood. His father, Don, played parts of six seasons in the NHL.

“It's great; he knows the game inside and out. It's always awesome to have him there and point me in the right direction,” Riley said. “It can be hard to see that when you're my age, but he's been very good with me.”

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder is working hard to continue his success.

“My style is more making plays and getting to the net and doing the ‘dirty' things to score goals. Whenever I get the chance to bury the puck, I think I can do it,” he said.

“It's been a blast. I couldn't have asked for a better year playing at World Juniors and on a great team at Miami and having a great start to my freshman year. I want to keep it going.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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