Ohio defenseman manages ice and isotopes

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Kaitlyn Bernauer | For The Post Zack Barbis, a student studying chemical engineering and a defenseman on Ohio’s hockey team, has perfected balancing his time between the classroom and Bird Arena.

Chemical-engineering students are busy people.

If they’re not writing 50-page lab reports on the best environment to grow yeast or running complex statistical equations through a heat transfer experiment, they’re sitting in lectures in some “basic” engineering classes, including thermodynamics and reaction kinetics.

Not easy.

Now imagine trying to add playing a physically demanding sport such as hockey into that mix. Even tougher.

But that’s exactly what Zack Barbis has done for the past four years: balancing a taxing chemical-engineering curriculum with a spot on the blue line for Ohio’s hockey team. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk, but one that the senior has been able to perfect.

“It’s pretty busy. I would say that I have less free time than most college students,” he said. “I guess it’s all about how you want to spend it. Most of my free time is spent playing hockey.

“But it’s manageable, mostly by staying organized and kind of planning the week and mapping what I have to do and when I’m going to have time to finish it all.”

One person who Barbis has impressed with his work ethic is Ohio coach Dan Morris, who has continually worked with the player to help him stay involved with the team. If that means not being able to practice on certain days, or even not being able to play every game, Morris has consented.

“It’s a tough thing, but it’s about the bigger picture,” said Morris, who equates Barbis’ schedule with “the guy spinning plates on a variety show.”

“I think he saw how important this was to him and his overall experience here at the university. I helped him out as much as I could and said ‘this is what you need to do if you really want to do it.’ ”

This quarter, Barbis will practice only two hours a week with the team because of classes and labs. In fall 2010, Barbis didn’t practice at all with the team but skated instead with Ohio’s Division II squad twice a week — a difficult task for playing an endurance sport.

“Last year when I didn’t practice at all, in midseason, I was out of shape and coming back to the bench just completely gassed,” Barbis said. “But I try to get the most out of the time I am there and try to be aware of the systems and the concepts we have even if I’m not there to practice them.”

Not that lack of practice time has hurt Barbis, who has led all Bobcat defensemen in scoring each of his first three seasons. He leads the unit in scoring again this season with 19 points, including six goals.

On top of that, he’s anchoring the team’s top power-play and penalty-killing units while playing on the Bobcats’ first defensive pairing with freshman Craig Myeroff. Barbis’ play is critical to the squad that regularly plays four freshmen defenders.

“He’s extremely valuable as one of the guys who plays every situation,” said Steve Osacky, Barbis’ partner in defense last season who is now an assistant with the team. “He’s the leader of the defense this year. What he does on the ice really sets the tone for the entire defensive core of the team.”

The blend of hockey and chemical engineering also helped Barbis in ways he didn’t expect when he began the juggling act three years ago. He said playing a team sport has helped him in chemical-engineering classes, which include plenty of group work for problem solving.

“Playing hockey since I was 5, I think I took that with me into my engineering education,” he said. “It’s a good skill to have to know how to work with all different kinds of people in a group-type setting.”

Hockey also has provided Barbis with a much-needed release valve away from the laboratory and is a sport that has helped him stick with his studies through the ups and downs of student life.

“I think hockey’s the thing that kind of keeps me sane when school’s weighing on me heavily. It’s two hours a day where I don’t have to worry about those sort of things,” he said. “There’s trade-offs: If I was to do just engineering, I might have better grades. If I was to pick the easiest major I could think of, I might be a better hockey player.

“(Not playing) does cross my mind, but it’s usually at four in the morning and it’s usually pretty short-lived.”

One person who is very happy those thoughts are short-lived is Morris, who Barbis thanks for his support. Barbis also appreciates the help of his department chair, Valerie Young.

“In many ways he’s made it easy because he’s been proactive,” Young said. “It’s worked out very well, and a big part of that was that he was very mature about it. We can work with people in that situation if they’re responsible about it, and he always has been.”

Barbis is scheduled to graduate on time and has received four job offers.

“He’s very successful in his major, and he’s successful on the ice,” Morris said. “It makes him an outstanding citizen at the university.”

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