February 06, 2016

Barrett Heisten

For all of it's snow and ice, Alaska has not produced many NHLers.

When Barrett Heisten played ten games with the New York Rangers in the 2001-02 season he became just the fifteenth Alaska born player in NHL history.

The big left winger was born in Anchorage in 1980 and played all of his youth hockey there, eventually becoming a high school star.

"Ever since I first stepped on the ice, I liked the game. I liked the concept of it. It's really fun to play," Heisten reminisced before adding "And I was kind of good at it. I was pretty bad at the other sports."

Heisten's parents built him and his siblings an outdoor rink. It was where he spent his most cherished times of his childhood.

"Every weekend, we'd have a big pond hockey game. Most of the time I'd look more forward to the pond hockey game than I would the regular (organized) games."

The backyard rink also allowed Heisten a chance to practice his skills. And practice he did, endlessly.

"I've always been one of the first ones on the ice and one of the last ones to leave. I've always wanted to get better. When i was a kid I couldn't handle having someone be better than me. I didn't like it."

That drive would become his trademark, and it would lead him on an amazing hockey journey.

In 1997 Heisten left Alaska when he was invited to play for the United States national development team.

The following season he accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Maine. He helped the Black Bears win the NCAA championship in 1999. Steve Kariya - Paul's little brother - was the scoring star for the Bears, but Heisten played a pivotal role with his imposing presence. He was regularly used on the penalty kill and in key defensive roles.

The Buffalo Sabres made Heisten their first round pick, 20th overall, in 1999. He was described as a competitive and energetic player who was not afraid to pay the price physically, be that by driving the net or standing in the slot. That combination of size and skill saw him twice be named to USA's World Junior championships team.

He would return to Maine for one more season. It was a special season as his brother Chris came from Alaska to join the team. But the reunion was short lived as Barrett would leave school early to play junior hockey in Seattle. He was the third highest scoring rookie in the WHL in that 2000-01 season.

The Sabres never were able to sign Heisten, allowing him to become a free agent in the summer of 2001. He signed on with the Rangers, but despite skating 10 games on the fourth line he would not finish his first pro-season before being traded to the Dallas Stars along with Manny Malhotra for Martin Rucinsky and Roman Lyashenko.

Heisten spent the next two seasons toiling for the Stars farm teams before a season in the New York Islanders system. His NHL days were getting farther and farther in his rear view mirror.

Heisten was set to retire in 2005 when he was lured home to Anchorage. Even though most of his family had relocated to Tacoma, Washington, Barrett jumped at the chance to play reunite with his brother Chris with the ECHL Alaska Aces. He would play three seasons with the Aces, winning the ECHL Kelley Cup championship in 2006.

Concussion symptoms forced Heisten to retired part way through the 2007-08 season. Heisten stayed in Anchorage remaining active in hockey, coaching at the youth and at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. He also found work as a finishing carpenter.

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