CHATHAM, NJ - Frank Gilberti didn't believe it at first. The Chatham ice hockey coach then checked with one of his assistants and he seemed stunned when he heard the answer was Will Barnett.
"Did Barnett score the third goal?," when asked about Chatham's winning goal against Kinnelon. "Hey, who scored the third goal? Barney? Yeah. Wow. We've been challenging him all year to wake up out of his slumber. He's starting to wake up and that's a good thing for Chatham."
After leading Chatham in scoring during the postseason in 2013 when the Cougars won the NJSIAA Public B state championship, Barnett is at it again in 2014 with three goals and two assists in two state tournament games.
"Our expectation coming in was very high this year after the postseason he had last year," Gilberti said. "He was hurt in the beginning of the year and it's taken him a little while to get comfortable. Here we are back in the playoffs and he has three goals in two games and he's leading us in playoff goals again. That's the Barney I know and want to see every single night."
Barnett was at his best on Sunday night, netting the first goal for the Cougars, picking up an assist on the tying goal and scoring the winning goal in Chatham's 4-2 victory in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA Public B state tournament.
Will Barnett is the TAP Chatham Athlete of the Week.
"He'll tell you himself," Gilberti said. "He's had a slow year. He showed up tonight."
Senior Colby Collier noted that Gilberti had told Chatham's second line, which included Barnett, that it had to play better in the playoffs.
"Coach said our best players had to step up," Collier said. "Will Barnett with two goals. That was clutch."
In the second round of the state tournament, Barnett collected a goal and an assist in Chatham's 6-0 triumph over Montville. But he topped that against Kinnelon. The junior scored an unassisted goal in the first period to make it 1-1. But Kinnelon scored again and held a 2-1 lead in the third period.
Barnett and Ben Seitz-Sitek earned assists on Collier's game-tying goal at 7:41 of the third. Just 73 seconds later, Barnett - with help from Jack O'Connor - banged in the game-winning goal. Barnett now has 12 goals and eight assists for the season.
"I broke my wrist playing for the Penguins in fall league and I came into the season a little rusty," Barnett said. "Then I got sick in the winter with a siinus infection and bronchitis. I'm healthy now and things are going my way. The puck is finding my stick and I'm fortunate enough to be able to bury it."
Barnett was an attackman on Chatham's state championship lacrosse team last spring.
"I was fortunate enough to win a state championship in hockey and lacrosse last year," Barnett said. "I'm looking to do the same thing this year."
Chatham can reach the state final for the second straight year if it defeats Morristown in a game set for 8:30 Thursday at Mennen Sports Arena.