The DuPage Stars didn’t have to look far for their new hockey director and varsity head coach. Brian Barnes this summer joined the Stars, inheriting a varsity team that finished the IHSHL West Division regular season with a 3-11-1 record.
DuPage Stars president William Flinker and the club’s executive board announced the Barnes hire, after he spent the last nine years as an assistant coach at Maine Township – a rival in Illinois West that, for three consecutive seasons, has been the West Cup champion of the IWHSHL. Maine stopped Waubonsie/Metea this past season in the best-of-three league playoff, winning the deciding game 5-2.
“From the very first communication with Brian I could feel his enthusiasm and professionalism along with his desire to build a successful program,” Flinker said. “With his leadership and our support, we are confident and excited for the future of our club.”
Barnes coached the Maine JV for three seasons before jumping to the co-op program’s varsity squad. During his time, Maine Township was a four-time league champion and state finalists in 2015, along with multiple state final four appearances and a round of eight appearance in 2022-2023.
Barnes, 34, who lives in Palatine, grew up playing hockey for the Park Ridge Northern Express. He played for Maine Township his junior and senior years of high school, then played two seasons of club hockey at Robert Morris University.
He played everywhere but goalie.
“I was a gritty plug-and-play type of guy my whole career, many times playing center, wing and defense in the same season,” Barnes said. “I think that has benefited me in my coaching career as I can utilize and identify a player’s talents and strengths that can help them excel at a different position they may have never thought of playing before, further leading to the success of the team.”
Barnes graduated from Maine South High School in 2007.
He is entering his 10th season coaching.
“Excited isn’t a strong enough word for how I am feeling going into my first high school head coaching role,” Barnes said. “(Maine head coach) Greg (Mrofcza) was a great role-model, how he ran the organization and the varsity bench. I am excited to bring a mix of what I learned at Maine (with) my own coaching ideas, strategies and philosophies. The fact I get to put my stamp on the club and how everything will be run with the help of the rest of my coaching staff, I know can be both a blessing and a curse, but I am ready for the responsibilities and everything that comes with it.”
Barnes sent a text Flinker when he heard of the coaching vacancy. That afternoon, they spoke, which Barnes expected would last 10 to 15 minutes.
Their phone conversation lasted 50 minutes.
“I realized that Bill and I had a lot of common beliefs about the game and high school hockey in general in the state of Illinois,” Barnes said. “I wanted the DuPage hockey director/varsity head coach job because I could tell from my conversations with Bill and a couple of the other board members that the club was very eager for change and was willing to throw whatever resources they had to bring success and excitement to their program. I was easily sold after seeing the direction the club wanted to take from that point on and the determination they had to make playing for the Stars a positive and rewarding experience for the players.”
The Stars, formed in 2010, are a mix of students attending Downers Grove North, Downers Grove South, Hinsdale South, Lisle and Westmont High Schools. The Stars practice and play at the Darien Sportsplex and Willowbrook Ice Arena.
“I never thought about coaching until Greg and I started talking about it 10 years ago when we were playing on the same men’s league team at Johnny’s Icehouse,” Barnes said. “He was coaching at my alma mater and we started talking about me helping out … the rest is history.”
“There are a lot of different feelings going through my head as I take on my first role as varsity head coach, but the bottom line is, I am confident in myself, my knowledge, my drive to compete, and my overwhelming dedication to the future success for this club as they gave me my first shot at being the head coach. They believed in me and for that, these players deserve nothing less than 100 percent effort,” Barnes said. “It means a lot to accept this job because it’s almost like a surprise reward for my hard work and dedication as a coach over the previous years. Everything in the past led me to this role with DuPage and I’m ready to get the ball rolling.”
Barnes said he doesn’t bring one particular coaching style to the bench. “Each opponent is different and I like to go into each game with a set gameplan to slow down the other team’s strengths and expose their weaknesses at the same time to give our team the best chance to win. I will say, though, the two most important things to me for a team to be successful are speed and team defense, so if my coaching style reflects anything, it would be those two areas.”
Within days of accepting the job, Barnes had already marked down 30 to 40 ideas, suggestions, thoughts and more that he considered for the Stars.
His goal for the upcoming season is to build a strong base.
“I want to develop players at the varsity and junior varsity levels and make sure they are all having fun,” he said. “By building that strong base, we can build and grow our club into a place where all these young players want to go, to be successful and become the best version of themselves on and off the ice.
“My whole life I have been an optimist. From what I saw in the spring, as well as during the summer 3v3 league, there are some talented players within this organization, as well as talented players at our schools who we are trying to recruit. For my first year and moving forward, regardless of what happened in the past, our two goals as a team will always be to win the league (title) and win state.
“If you don’t have big aspirations, you’re not willing to try hard enough; that’s my opinion.”
Barnes said the Stars strength this season will include leadership and experience. They return two co-captains from last season: senior forwards Jack Martino and RJ Lube. Other key returning players are junior forwards Sam and Dom Rallo, junior forward Pellegrino Pescatore and senior defensemen Chase Flinker and Robby Farrington.
“I hope my coaching staff and I can bring a breath of fresh air and a change of scenery to the Stars, to get us started on the track towards sustained success,” said Barnes, who admitted he is “ecstastic, eager and impatient” for the season to start.
“I love the summer, being on the golf course or doing something outside with my two boys, but the fall hockey season couldn’t come soon enough. I wish that the first game was tomorrow,” he said.
The Stars assistant coaches are John Schuten, a returning coach and former DuPage player; Rob Charneske, who previously coached with the U16 and U18 Team Illinois girls’ teams; Blake Gordon, who was previously the JV head coach for Nazareth; and new goalie coach Joe DiPietro, who also is the goaltending director for the Hoffman Estates Timberwolves.
On-Ice With … DuPage Stars Head Coach Brian Barnes
Playing Highlight: “My second year playing for Maine, when we took down the perennial high school powerhouse at that time, Rockford, in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. We were a huge underdog and beat them 1-0. The icing on the cake was that I scored the only goal in that game,” Barnes said.
Maine Memories: “I could legit write down 100-plus special memories from my tenure at Maine. I can’t thank Greg Mrofcza enough for helping me become the coach, man, and father who I am today. He will always have a special place in my life and my family’s. As much as I want to say my favorite memories are the back-to-back-to back West League Championships the last 3 seasons, the best memories that I will take from my time at Maine are just the camaraderie between myself, the coaches and the players. We were a family and the boys were a brotherhood; everyone was there for each other, no matter what. I am looking forward to bringing that same atmosphere to the Stars.”