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The trick shot king: Brandon ‘Pavel’ Barber on his passion for hockey and the Sens Skills 

Growing up in Toronto, life for Brandon “Pavel” Barber – arguably Canada’s most famous trick shot specialist – was all about playing mini-sticks with his friends in the basement. 

Despite copping stitches over his eye and being on the receiving end of four-year-old hockey moves, Barber caught the hockey bug: before long, he was hauling his skates to a nearby outdoor rink, skipping school to get extra ice time and daydreaming about the NHL. 

And then came the a-ha moment that changed his life: at a 1996 NCAA Tournament, Canadian player Mike Legg caught the attention of every hockey kid in Canada by pulling off the impossible goal, now known universally as the “Michigan”, named after the university team Legg played on. 

In that moment, Barber’s dreams of the NHL were replaced by a new passion – he wanted to master the Michigan and every other trick shot he could dream up.  

“I mean, that Michigan, picking the puck up when Mike Legg did it, and all us kids were like, ‘HOW did he do that?’,” laughs Barber.  

“And I wasn’t the first kid on my team to do it. There was another kid actually teaching me and we were scooping that puck up on the heel and from there, everything else kind of evolved.”

The “everything else” now includes work with NHL players, motion graphics for EA Sports NHL video games, more than 1.65 million total followers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, and his inclusion in the Sens Skills competition presented by CAA North & East Ontario, where he’ll hit the ice to compete with two teams led by Ottawa Senators Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. Proceeds from the event, which takes place at 1 p.m. on January 28 at Canadian Tire Centre, go to support NHLPA charitable programs.  

While fans will get to see Barber pull off signature moves like the Zorro and the Michigan, for Barber, Sens Skills is particularly meaningful on a personal level.  

“You want hockey to do is be an engine, to kind of support other people who might not be able to get involved. I know all too well what that looks like. I grew up relying on government grants and stuff to play hockey. So yeah, that kind of stuff means it means a lot to me, for sure,” he says.  

So how did Barber get to where he is and what’s next? CAA Magazine spent some time with him before the Sens Skills competition to find out.   

Your name is Brandon Barber. Where did Pavel Barber originate?

Pavel Barber is kind of named after my favorite player, Pavel Datsyuk. [Datsyuk, a former Russian player, was called “Magic Man” for his charismatic stickhandling skills.] When I started YouTube,  

I put Pavel in there as like a placeholder and then YouTube wouldn’t let me change it after that. So, I was just stuck with it and here we are. 

Tell us about how the Michigan trick shot started your career at an early age.

It all started from just learning that basic one which blew all our minds back then, which now, we will watch 5-year-olds do the Michigan we’ll be like, ‘Oh, it’s just an average Canadian fiveyearold.’[Laughs] Like we won’t even bat an eye at it today, but to us back then, it was like insane trick. 

Is that still your favorite, or do you have another one?

I think there’s the Zorro, where you just have it on the toe, and you just whip it around on the ice. There’s a lot of options from there and it’s just fun to do. I know the kids always ask me to demo that one for them. I play floorball, so it’s from there. [With floorball], there are these sticks that have this pocket at the end. It’s like a small indent in the top of the stick that allows you to kind of cut the puck in there. So, it kind of originated from that and then bringing it to the ice. 

What's the key to pulling off a trick shot? What would be the thing that you would tell 12-year-old you? Is it the agility, practice? Dexterity?

I think with trick shots, patience number one. You’re gonna mess up a lot for sure. And having a lot of pucks with you when you’re doing it because you don’t wanna be like chasing a puck down the ice, like that’s what I did when I was young.  

We tell the kids when you’re doing that Michigan, where you’re picking the puck up, it’s just like keeping that pressure down on the puck as you’re getting ready to scoop up. And then from there it depends on the trick you’re doing, and sometimes it’s keeping the bottom hand really loose. Sometimes, if you’re spinning the blade fully around, it’s keeping both bottom and top hand loose, so you’re just spinning the shaft on your hands.  

How has your partnership with EA Sports NHL video games evolved?

I’ve been doing motion capture for them for about five years, dating back to 2017, where th  ey just put the dots on you and they just get you to do a bunch of … stick handling. They just make you go through a bunch of moves that they want to introduce to the game. 

I was fortunate enough to a couple years back to bring new moves to the game, like the Datsyuk move. And then this past year, they just reached out to me and a couple other creators and said, ‘Hey, we want to put you guys in the game,’ which you know for me like as a kid growing up playing the game, that’s like the dream. Just to be, you know, in the video game you played your whole life as a kid. 

You got into the NHL anyway.

[Laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m rated 87 so I’m better than some NHL players in the video game somehow, which is a very insulting to the NHL players, but it’s fun. 

Do you work with NHL or professional hockey players?

I actually teach basic hockey fundamental skills, so I’ve got definitely a handful of guys reaching out. 

Guys like [Edmonton Oilers forward] Warren Foegele, for example, sent me a bunch of videos of him doing breakaway moves and just asked for a little bit of advice on the approach he’s Raking.  

So they’re not interested in the trick shots.

Not so much the trick stuff. It’s not even related to hockey in terms of the NHL. These are just for fun and we try and make that very clear in the videos, but definitely some NHL players are amazed by it and ask about it.  

Which NHL players have the best moves?

A lot of them can do some pretty cool stuff. I was on the ice with [Jonathan] Toews, and he did this reverse shot where usually you go like, heel to toe and the puck rolls up the heel. But he was doing one where he slapped it from toe to heel, and it looks insane. [Ottawa Senators forward] Claude Giroux taught him it. I’m on the ice and I’m trying to learn this, and I was like, I did not get it.  

When you’re teaching hockey skills, you make it clear tricks aren’t the game.

Absolutely. Tricks are a way to enjoy hockey. I always try to tell that to parents. If all the kid is doing is tricks, obviously that’s going to impact their development. But if they’re doing it here and there, it keeps them on the ice for longer and it keeps them wanting to go back and back, then it’s a positive. 

You were an early YouTube sensation in the hockey area. Any highlights from internet fame?

One of the coolest things we got to go to this helicopter-accessible rink [at Invermere, BC] for a Molson Canadian commercial. They basically just fly in a helicopter for 10 minutes; it was like 8000 feet up. The air up there is like hard to breathe, they told not to not skate hard, and I was like ‘I’m young, I’m in shape, I can skate hard’ and I was absolutely gassed after like a couple minutes.

That always stays in the back of my mind. I’m one of those guys that just dreams of playing on these epic rinks and it’s just like when you’re there, it’s just like nothing better like nothing else is on your mind. 

What will be the highlight for you at Sens Skills?

Obviously, the shootout. I love to see moves guys do in the creative stuff they do, but I I’m a big, big fan of just the basic ones, too, like the fastest skater, target shooting, stuff like that. I love seeing that because it’s like that’s one event where you see guys go really, really hard.  


Sens Skills presented by CAA North & East Ontario is a fun, family-oriented afternoon of friendly hockey competitions involving Ottawa Senators players, minor hockey players and members of the PWHL Ottawa team. Proceeds support the NHLPA charitable projects.  

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