Colorado Rubber

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Plucked from NHL waiver wire, Barberio quickly finds niche on Avalanche back end

 

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Newly acquired Colorado Avalanche defenseman Mark Barberio was picked up off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 2 and reported to practice the following day in Colorado.

He travels light.

“I’m out here solo,” said Barberio, who is single and without children.

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This spring, Barberio hopes to make a home in Denver and become part of the Avs’ blue line facelift. Although he’s currently living out of a Denver-area hotel, he’s under contract through next season and already looking like a building block. In his first three games with Colorado, he logged 20:31, 18:31 and 20:25 of ice time as the Avs went 2-1.

“When they picked me up, they told me that I was going to get an opportunity and to be ready,” Barberio said after his third game with the Avalanche on Feb. 9, a 4-1 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. “I just want to prove I can play top minutes and kind of earn my next shift.”

Barberio, 26, is more concerned about his next shift than his own place in Colorado. The Montreal native digs his hotel digs in Cherry Creek.

“Just playing it day-by-day. If they tell me to find I place, I’ll look for one, but I’m fine at the hotel,” he said. “It has a mini-kitchen, so I’m able to cook for myself. It’s got everything I need – including a hot tub and a pool. It’s a good setup.”

Barberio’s acquisition was interesting because less than a week after Montreal placed him on waivers, he was playing against the Canadiens in Denver. Colorado beat the Habs 4-0 on Feb. 7 and Barberio had two assists.

“It’s just funny how things like that work,” Barberio told the Denver Post. “Change teams and you’re playing your old team a few days later.”

Avs coach Jared Bednar said of Barberio: “Obviously, he can skate. So when he goes back for pucks, and even in the neutral zone when he picks up pucks, he’s got such good feet, he gets himself facing up the ice right away and he can look at his first, second and third option and then decide where he wants to move the puck. He didn’t force too many plays and turn them over. He was simple with the puck and moved it efficiently. And then he did a good job defensively.”

Barberio played junior hockey in his native Quebec and was a late-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008. After a healthy minor-league development stint, he played two seasons for the Bolts, ending in 2015 when they lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks. Barberio played 52 regular-season games in 2014-15, but just one in the postseason.

When free agency began July 1, 2015, Barberio signed with his hometown Canadiens. The dream-come-true scenario led to a 56-game stint with the Habs in 2015-16 and this season, but he was forced to the minors Feb. 2 and Colorado – which has first pick on the waiver wire – snatched the two-way defenseman. Two days later, Barberio made his debut with the Avalanche in a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

“It was fun,” Barberio said of his first game with the Avs. “It was fun to get the win. That’s my third time I’ve had a debut with a new team, and my third win. It’s not easy with new systems and getting used to playing with new guys, but I thought whoever I was out there with was doing a good job of communicating and making my life pretty easy.”

Barberio has a year remaining on a two-year, $1.5 million contract, so the Avalanche’s waiver claim was more of a commitment than when it claimed winger Matt Nieto from San Jose in early January. Nieto, 24, has a one-year, $735,000 deal, so he is playing under audition conditions as a restricted free agent.

— Mike Chambers