By From the Lowell Sun
LOWELL -- His allergies are nothing to sneeze at.
But if he weren't allergic to things like pollen, Barry Goers would likely be at the U.S. Naval Academy, training to become a Navy Seal.
"I was medically disqualified," the 21-year-old native of Ivyland, Pa., said.
The beneficiary of Goers' allergies is the UMass Lowell hockey program, the top-rated defense in Hockey East thanks, in large part, to the play of the smooth-skating sophomore defenseman.
In addition to playing air-tight defense, Goers has already doubled his point total from his freshman year -- when he scored four points in 30 games -- to share UML's team lead with eight points through 11 games.
"He's the full package," UML head coach Blaise MacDonald said. "He has such a calm, stern demeanor. Even if he feels (nervous) inside, you can't see it, which is a tremendous quality to have as an athlete. Barry's one of those players where his heart's not racing at all, whether it's in front of 6,500 fans at UNH or 800 fans at Providence."
Goers simply doesn't panic. Rattle isn't in his vocabulary. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Goers isn't blessed with great size, but his poise separates him from other defenders.
"He can hold onto the puck for that extra second and make a play. He doesn't rush things. He's just got the ability out there to make things happen and slow things down," said Jeremy Dehner, UML's other standout sophomore defenseman. "It's a really tough thing to do, especially in this league because there's so many fast players and skilled players out there. It's a hard thing to do, but he still manages to do it."
Goers (1 goal, 7 assists) is a major reason why the young River Hawks swept Merrimack last weekend to improve to 4-3-4 overall.
"You really have to be on top of your game. You can make one small mistake and the puck ends up in your net. You learn that pretty quickly," he said, laughing. "Now I feel more comfortable on the ice. I'm not overanalyzing things. I'm just playing because I know what I'm doing. I consider myself an offensive defenseman and I like to join the play. It's been working so far. I'm just lucky, I guess."
Luck has nothing to do with Goers' success, according to MacDonald.
"He's very focused, very driven. It carries over to everything he does," UML's coach said.
It certainly carries over to the classroom, as the business finance major compiled a 3.82 grade point average as a freshman, one of the top GPA's of any UML athlete.
"I guess you could say I strive for perfection," Goers said. "I try to be the best in anything I do."
Goers' strong play has caught the attention of Hockey East coaches like Dick Umile, whose New Hampshire Wildcats host UMass Lowell tomorrow night and then play at UML on Saturday.
"He's obviously doing a great job for them," Umile said. "When you're playing in this league, it's tough being a defenseman because of the skill level of the players."
Goers joined UML after he recorded 10 goals and 54 assists in two seasons with the Green Mountain Glades of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. He was also recruited by UMass Amherst, Harvard, Army, Princeton, Dartmouth and RPI.
His journey to Tsongas Arena is an interesting one -- he was born in Fort Worth, Texas, where he lived for three years, then moved with his family to Las Vegas, where the Goers' lived for three years.
When his father got a new job, the family moved to Schenectady, N.Y., where he began his hockey career at age 7. After seven years in New York, the Goers' moved to their current home in Pennsylvania.
"It's wild. It's funny how things work out," he said.
Opponents should not be fooled by Goers' 175 pounds -- he's tremendously strong and superbly conditioned.
An average shift for a defenseman is 28-32 seconds, MacDonald said, but Goers is able to stay on the ice for up to two minutes and still have the energy -- and the competitive fire -- to battle for loose pucks.
"You know he's gassed," MacDonald marvels, "but he wins (the puck) with ease."
Three weeks ago, UMass Lowell played back-to-back grueling overtime games, at UNH and at home against UMass Amherst. Amazingly, Goers was on the ice for approximately 80 of those 130 minutes.
"The more he's out there, the stronger he gets," MacDonald said.
One thing's for sure: Barry Goers isn't allergic to ice time.