Indiana High School's Madison Barker makes history as goalie in boys Penguins Cup Championship
March 18, 2017 12:10 AM
Special to the Post-Gazette
Sophomore Madison Barker of Indiana High School will make history in goal.
By Mike White / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Madison Barker’s icy introduction was with figure skates. Close to a decade ago, she started taking lessons to be a figure skater.
Next week, she will make history in hockey skates on a boys team.
Barker is a goalie on the Indiana High School hockey team and the Little Indians will play in the PIHL Penguins Cup Class 1A championship against Franklin Regional at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. The person behind the mask for Indiana is the first female to play goalie in a championship.
But don’t look at Barker as a girl goalie. Look at her simply as a good goalie. She’s 5 feet 10, 15 years old and only a sophomore.
“I’ve watched her play and she just handles herself so well,” said Craig Barnett, commissioner of the PIHL. “She made two huge saves the other night [in the semifinals] in the last two minutes and they would’ve lost if the puck went in. I think what she is doing is neat, really neat. I think she is pretty special.”
No high schools in Western Pennsylvania have female hockey teams and there have been girls hockey players in the PIHL before. A few have even played goalie. Barnett estimates a handful of females were on teams this season. But no female goalkeeper has ever gone to a championship.
“A lot of girls start playing hockey and play with boys, but there comes a time when most have to go their own way because contact starts,” Barnett said. “You look at junior varsity and middle school, you see more girls playing. But at this point on the varsity, the boys are more mature and stronger. Again, to see someone doing what she is doing is pretty special.”
In the regular season, Barker had a goals-against-average of 3.23 and a save percentage of .844. In three postseason games, she has allowed eight goals.
But Barker doesn’t consider herself some trailblazer for female hockey players. She’s simply playing a sport she likes and is enjoying playing alongside her brother, Tyler, a junior.
“I appreciate the fact that I’m the first [goalie] in a championship,” Barker said. “But it’s not just me. This whole team got to the championship. If it wasn’t for the rest of the team, I wouldn’t be here.
“The guys have been great. They treat me like I’m their sister.”
Madison’s avenue to a championship-caliber goalie started with those figure skating lessons when she was 6. But as time went on, she remembers watching with envy as her father, Jonn, coached her brother in youth hockey leagues. She first started playing hockey against girls in a small league in Indiana. By the time she was 10, she decided she would like to try playing on a boys team.
“I just thought, ‘Hey, I can do that, too,’” she said. “After a while, they didn’t have a goalie, so I thought I would try it.”
Barker was the goalie on Indiana’s junior varsity team a year ago. But the varsity didn’t have a goalie this year, so coach Jordan Haines knew there was only one option.
“I didn’t know what to expect and not because she was a female,” Haines said. “I didn’t know what to expect because she was a JV goalie. She hadn’t seen shots of 18-year-old males. We worked with her constantly. She’s tall, has long legs and she’s mechanically sound. I think she has to be one of the top two goalies in [Class 1A].
“The guys now have confidence in her. They don’t think, ‘Oh, she’s a girl.’ I don’t think anyone has that little mindset that she might possibly give up one here or there or might not be as quick as a guy.”
More girls are playing hockey nationally on the high school level. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 15 states in the country had girls high school hockey teams a year ago, with 642 teams and 9,514 participants. But about two-thirds of those teams were in Minnesota and Massachusetts. Twenty years ago, there were only 127 girls teams in nine states.
Pennsylvania does not have high school female teams. In Western Pennsylvania, there are a few organizations that have girls travel teams at different age groups, such as the Steel City Selects and Pittsburgh Penguins Elite. Barker plays for a Steel City Selects team.
“But there still aren’t enough girls playing, so those teams have to travel to get games,” Barnett said.
Barker certainly has gone far already. She also is a standout softball player for Indiana.
and she has better than a 4.0 grade-point average in the classroom.
“I never really thought I was that good as a goalie,” Barker said with a laugh. “I really don’t even plan on playing for a women’s team in college. I just do this for fun.”
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.
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