BOCA RATON, Fla. – For someone just 24 years old, Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov has amassed quite the list of accomplishments.
The former second overall pick, NHL All-Star and Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner has quietly carved out a nice little resume during his professional hockey career, which has taken him from being a teenage pro in Finland less than a decade ago to one of the best two-way centers in the world.
Barkov, still a few years away from entering what should be the prime years of his career, is already paying it forward in a big, big way.
This week Barkov officially became a partial owner in his hometown hockey team, Tappara, as the third-largest shareholder in its parent company, Tamhockey Oy.
It’s not only a big deal for Sasha, who starred in Tappara’s youth program in Tampere as a child, but it’s a monumental move for his family, as the Barkov’s have been connected to the franchise since Aleksander’s father played there for parts of two decades.
“It’s a huge thing for me and my family,” Barkov said Thursday from his home in Boca Raton. “Since when I was born, and the year before that when my dad joined the team, ever since then I feel like that team is probably one of the most important things for me and my family.”
The Barkov's have remained close with the Tappara hockey franchise, both as fans and alumni. Sasha returns home every summer and trains at the team's home rink, often with current or former players.
“I feel like I’ve always been a little part of the team and organization, but now especially with this thing happening, I’m really proud and honored to become one of the owners and hopefully bring something new and some knowledge to the organization moving forward,” he said.
Barkov made sure to point out that currently, his "whole focus" was on his hockey playing career in Florida and helping the Panthers win the Stanley Cup.
That being said, Barkov expressed his desire to gradually become more educated about being an owner and what it takes to lead a successful franchise, especially one that he and his family has such deep roots with.
"Moving forward, I want to learn more things about the business side of the organization," he said, admitting that he has much to absorb regarding his new ownership role.
Barkov also said he hopes to continue training with Tappara during the NHL offseason and work with its younger players in order to help them develop.
In the meantime, however, Barkov did not let the attention get too far away from his current task at hand, despite the obvious excitement over his new venture.
"This is a huge step for me and a big honor to become an owner of the team I grew up with," he said, before stating, "Right now, my full focus is on the Panthers, playing in the playoffs and trying to win a Stanley Cup."
The two first words that came out of Barkov's mouth when asked about returning to the Panthers Ice Den and working with teammates again encapsulated the message being received from players across the league as they lace up their skates for the first time in months.
"It's amazing," he said through a big smile.
Barkov and about half the Panthers roster have been taking part in Phase 2 of the NHL's Return to Play Plan, which allows players to voluntarily participate in non-contact workouts, on and off the ice, in groups of no more than six players.
Being the hard-working, lead-by-example guy that he is, Barkov said one advantage to practicing in smaller groups is that you get more reps in each drill and have additional room on the ice to work with.
Overall, it's easy to see that Barkov is once again in his happy place, which is on the ice, with his friends, doing what he loves most.
"Being around some of my teammates and some of the training staff, seeing those guys again and talking to them feels like (things are) almost back to normal," he said. "It's really a good thing."
There is no doubt that Barkov was thrilled to get back to work.
He admitted that during the NHL's pause, he hadn't been up to much. For the most part, it's been just hanging out at home, working out and playing video games for Sasha, so being able to strap on the gear and hit the ice has been a huge boost.
"Going to the rink is one of the best parts of the week," he said.
There is also the added bonus of jumping right into a do-or-die playoff series, with each player being given the same window of opportunity to get as close to top form as possible before everyone hits the ground running.
If all goes to plan, Barkov and the Panthers will open the team's mandatory training camp on July 10, at which time they will officially begin preparing to face the New York Islanders in the Qualifying Round of the NHL's 24-team Return to Play tournament.
It's an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup, which is all any hockey player could ask for.
That is especially true for Barkov who, despite being a pretty quiet guy overall, will often bring up his desire to reach the postseason and lift the Panthers franchise to championship status.
“For me, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are everything,” Barkov said. “I would not leave my bed (other than) just to go to games and practices, just to play in the playoffs and try to win the Stanley Cup. This is why I live for, and this is what we live for as a team. We want to win and we’re going to do everything that it takes.”