Barnett chooses family over game

Mike Barnett, once the most-prominent agent in the hockey business and one of the most powerful people in the sport, has stepped away from the game.

Barnett, who was Wayne Gretzky's agent for 21 years, has left the employ of the NHL's New York Rangers in order to spend more time with his wife, Julianna, and four daughters in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"We just came back from four days of camping," Barnett said, "and it was exactly what I had hoped it would be. It was a real pleasure. Making coffee for everyone over the open fire in the morning . . ."

Barnett, whose last role was senior advisor to the president and general manager and director of U.S. amateur scouting with the Rangers, said he made the decision over the Labour Day weekend. Barnett then informed Glen Sather, the Rangers' president and general manager.

Sather and Barnett go way back, of course. Sather was running the Edmonton Oilers when Gretzky was hockey's best player.

"Glen was really good about it," Barnett said. "He said family comes first."

Barnett had been with the Rangers since July 8, 2008. Prior to that, he had worked for almost six years as general manager, executive vice-president and alternate governor of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Barnett has six children, five of them under the age of 21. The four girls, ages 19, 17, 13 and 12, all are at home.

They also have two sons - J.T. is a winger with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers and presently is in camp with the NHL's New Jersey Devils, while Jesse, who played one season of junior B hockey with the Summerland Sting, is in law school.

"I missed a lot of time with the girls," Mike said. "And I just didn't want to do the hotel-airport thing again. It's been 25 years . . .

"It's time for catch-up time at home."

Barnett refused to rule out a potential return to hockey at some point down the road. He said he simply feels that family time is awfully important right now.

Barnett, who is to turn 53 on Oct. 9, was born in Olds, Alta. He played hockey at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and spent two seasons (1973-75) in the old North American league before an eye injury ended his career. He also attend the U of Calgary where he earned a bachelor of physical education.

Barnett began CorpSport International in Edmonton in 1980, selling it 10 years later to IMG and becoming president of IMG's hockey operations. a position he filled for 12 years.

At one time, Barnett represented the likes of Gretzky, Joe Thornton, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny.

Barnett was Gretzky's agent when The Great One was dealt by Edmonton to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988. Barnett, until then a resident of Canada, relocated to Los Angeles with Gretzky and has been a U.S. resident ever since.

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