Lots of hockey playing kids dream of playing in the NHL someday but most realize it’s just that, a fantasy.
And even a very small percentage of those dare to visualize a day when they might play for their hometown team.
With all that in mind, imagine the excitement felt by Bristol-born Evan Barratt when he found out the other day he had just been acquired by the Flyers from the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade for defenseman Cooper Zech.
Barratt, a third-round (90th overall) draft pick of the Blackhawks back in 2017, was assigned to the nearby Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL for the time being.
But you never know. If he plays well and the Flyers experience a couple injuries, the former Penn State star could find himself playing in the bright lights of the big city, namely Philadelphia.
For now, the 23-year-old left-shooting center will be happy to work on his game in the minors. He’s familiar with this level of competition, having played two-plus seasons for the Rockford (Illinois) IceHogs.
“I’m so excited, glad to get that long drive over with,’’ Barratt said with a laugh during a recent telephone conversation. “That’s about 12 hours and I was out there for two years, so. . .’’
Yeah, not much to see there on I-80 except for the occasional deer. Those days, however, are over. Now he only has to negotiate about an hour of the Pennsylvania Turnpike if he wants to get some home cooking.
Barratt will be playing for Phantoms head coach Ian Laperriere, a bench boss who’s known for his ability to develop young talent.
“I know how he played and I know how hard and tough he is on players,’’ Barratt said. “But I think my game fits here.’’
Barratt’s history in organized hockey really took off when he played for the U.S. National Under-17 and Under-18 teams from 2015-17. Then he joined the Nittany Lions program, which had advanced to NCAA Division I level competition starting with the 2012-13 season.
He posted career totals of 39 goals/56 points in three seasons at PSU, then enjoyed a breakthrough season with the IceHogs last year with 14 goals/28 points in 63 games.
Barratt said part of the fun playing for the Nittany Lions was being close enough to have family and friends come watch him play. It will be even easier now that he’s based in Allentown.
“That was an amazing three years for me,’’ he said. “My mom was able to come every weekend she could. I had a lot of friends going to school already and friends from back home come up and see me. Hockey’s pretty big up there so it was cool.’’
Now he gets to validate the faith Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher showed in him.
“I’m excited for a fresh start,’’ he reiterated. “It’s even better to come home.’’
Now as for those childhood dreams, Barratt might have allowed himself a moment or two on the ice to wonder if he could ever possibly play alongside his hometown heroes one day.
If he did, he’s not going to readily admit it.
“It’s pretty crazy,’’ he said. “I think a lot of people want to play for their hometown, their home team. You don’t really think about it. I was drafted, I was excited to go to Chicago. But now it’s the same feeling to be back. . .obviously comfortable here. It really is pretty crazy.’’
Barratt comes from an athletic family. His mom is an ice skating teacher, his dad has been in hockey his whole life. He has an older brother who played lacrosse at Villanova and an older sister who played lacrosse at Syracuse.
With parents like that, his destiny in hockey seemed almost preordained.
“That,’’ he said, “is kind of the direction I was put in.’’
If Barratt aspires to play in the NHL someday, he can look to Yardley’s Brian O’Neill as a role model.
O’Neill spent a part of one season with the New Jersey Devils before moving on to the KHL (and now playing in the Swiss League after his Finnish-based Jokerit team pulled out of the Russian-based league to protest the invasion of Ukraine). O’Neill is the only Bucks County-born player to reach the NHL.
“Coming home to train, there aren’t many guys close to me,’’ Barratt pointed out. “But I grew up here and it’s pretty cool to be coming back.’’
The 6-foot-0, 188-pound Barratt said he’s been working on his game and hopes to be able to make a contribution to the Phantoms’ fortunes.
“Just trying to keep my speed up, my pace of play up,’’ Barratt said. “I’m pretty crafty around the net. Keeping my feet moving, that’s what I’ve been working on.’’
It’s all about working on that dream. And if it were ever to come true, can you imagine what the celebration party in Bristol would be like?