Dashing his dream

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 2:19 PM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Dreams don't die easily, and this one was no exception. Winnipeg defenceman Cam Barker was already sick when he showed up at Team Canada's final training camp in his hometown three weeks ago.

At the time, nobody knew how serious it was, not even Barker himself.

And he wasn't about to start complaining about it. After all, he had a spot to earn, a dream to chase.

"I never thought it would be mono," Barker told The Sun late yesterday morning. "I thought it was a bad fever, or whatever."

Barker was speaking on the phone from his hotel room, the morning after finding out his world junior championship had been derailed by a case of mononucleosis, just as Team Canada gets set for the medal round.

On his way back to Winnipeg later in the day, the 18-year-old was still in bed, exhausted from the battle his body has been waging.

"It's been getting worse every day," Barker said. "It was getting to the point, in that third game, that I almost couldn't play."

But he did play, and played well, scoring his first goal of the tournament in a win over Germany.

But he wasn't responding to any drugs, and his condition continued to deteriorate.

"My ears hurt, I have a headache all the time and I'm hot all the time, like a fever, almost," Barker said. "I couldn't sleep for, like, two days. The more I played, the worse it got."

By this time he'd been quarantined to his own hotel room.

"You could tell he was getting sicker," said defenceman Shawn Belle, Barker's roommate to that point. "You don't want to go down like that, especially in a big tournament like this. It's a shame."

When Barker missed a practice, his dad back in Winnipeg, Neil Barker, knew something was up.

"Missing a practice is a big deal for Cam," Neil said. "When it comes to missing a game, that's when you begin to wonder."

Which is what happened in Canada's last round-robin game against Finland, Thursday. Too tired to even watch it, Barker slept through it.

After the game, doctors finally told him what he had. They also told him mono causes the spleen to swell, and that contact could cause it to rupture.

"It's a little disconcerting," Neil Barker said. "Something like that, you're taking a big risk."

So Canada would go for the gold without his son.

Word spread through the team, with most players finding out Thursday night.

SHOCK

"It was kind of a shock," Belle said. "I can't say I know what he feels."

Some players came by Barker's room to say goodbye.

Fellow Winnipegger Nigel Dawes didn't get a chance.

"There's not much you can say," Dawes said. "You dream your whole life about playing here, and you come up with something like that. You've just got to feel sorry for him."

Head coach Brent Sutter was as surprised as anyone by the whole thing.

"Who would have ever thought it would be mono?" Sutter said. "He was playing well here, too. What do you say? You feel bad for him. You tell him, 'Keep your chin up and get healthy.' I told him, 'You're still part of the team.'"

Technically, he is. But he won't be there when it counts most.

"It was a pretty bad feeling," Barker said. "You try not to think about it."

His dad knows how difficult that will be for his son.

"This is bigger than the NHL, the NHL draft, you name it," Neil Barker said. "Every Christmas, this was the thing."

There are two reasons to hope, though.

One, Barker is young enough that he might get another chance next year.

The other positive sign: by noon yesterday, Barker was already talking about going back to Grand Forks to watch the gold-medal game in person.

"If he's up for it ... that's what we'll do," his dad said.

His teammates would have him in a second.

"Everybody would love to see him here," captain Michael Richards said. "He's part of the team. If he's not here, he's still part of it."

You know, maybe there is a way Barker can still contribute.

"Maybe (we can) play for him a little bit," Richards said. "Maybe use him as a little bit of an inspiration."

Maybe.


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