When Norwich defenseman Shawn Baker skates out onto the ice at Kreitzberg Arena this weekend, the pressure will be on.
After all, with his senior season almost at a close, Baker wants to extend his NCAA hockey career as far as he can, up to and including the 2012 NCAA Division III Men’s Hockey Championship at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., the same place where Baker and his classmates won the NCAA title in 2010 with a 2-1 double-overtime victory against St. Norbert.
“It’s different this year,” Baker said. “I’m a senior. These are our last games. I feel it’s an extra motivation to get ready, and understand how quick it goes. One day, you’re a freshman or sophomore, and then you wake up, and you’re a senior in the playoffs, so it’s a different feeling.”
At the same time, though, if there’s a player on the Cadets’ roster who knows what it means to face pressure, that player is Shawn Baker, who nearly had to postpone his interview for this piece when he was summoned to help put out a fire.
Yes, put out a fire.
As if playing more than 100 games as a stalwart defenseman and earning a degree in criminal justice wasn’t enough, Baker has spent the last four years as a volunteer firefighter in the Northfield Fire Department.
“A busy day,” Baker said. “We knew there were big snowstorms today, so we were expecting a car accident or a fire, because people try to heat their houses more.”
The combination of responsibilities has made quite an impression on Norwich head coach Mike McShane, who has seen quite a lot in his tenure with the Cadets.
“He knows how to manage his time,” McShane said. “In college, a big part of success is how you manage your time, especially if you’re a student-athlete, and above that he’s a fireman. He has to manage his time. He has to take his priorities and put them in place, and that’s what he does.”
Indeed, for Baker, who’s been an integral piece of Norwich’s puzzle ever since he arrived on campus, there’s a certain connection between fighting fires and shutting down opposing offenses.
“In hockey and fighting fires,” Baker said, “you learn how to trust your teammates. If you try to put out a fire without trusting the guy next to you, something’s going to go wrong. As a defenseman, I have to trust my partner the same way. If I go to get the puck, or get a guy, I know he’s going to be behind me. That kind of confidence, on the ice or as a firefighter, is pretty much the same.”
Still, there are no hockey parallels available when it comes to the work Baker was called on to do this past fall, when the remnants of Hurricane Irene, a tropical storm at that point, did some $200 million in damage to Vermont’s roads alone, to say nothing of the damages to homes and other property in the area. Baker was one of the first responders when the hurricane hit in his capacity as a firefighter, and has spent countless hours since helping families get their homes and lives back in order.
“You have to put yourself in their shoes,” Baker said. “You have to try to support them, and try to stay positive no matter what. If a firefighter or someone else who helps is being negative, it’s such a bad influence on the person, and they think bad things. And you can’t look overwhelmed. When you show confidence, it automatically helps people.”
Baker’s work in the community — which also includes volunteering at local skating clinics and birthday party events — has made him one of five finalists for the 2012 BNY Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, presented annually to college hockey’s finest citizen. Time will tell if Baker is chosen to receive that award — which will be presented on Friday, April 6, at the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa — but for now, he’s honored to be part of a field that also includes Yale senior Aleca Hughes, Colgate senior Kevin McNamara, St. Anselm junior Tucker Mullin and Miami (Ohio) senior Cody Reichard.
“That’s awesome,” Baker said. “I was not expecting this at all, especially being in the final five. It’s fun to see what you’re doing be recognized, and with that, you’re hoping for a domino effect, where more people in the school are going to get involved in the community. I know we have students in EMS, more students becoming firefighters, which is good.”
Before that award is handed out, Baker has his own championship to worry about. The Cadets (21-2-2, 15-2-1 ECAC East) are the No. 1 team this week in the USCHO.com Division III Men’s Poll, fresh off of wins over Southern Maine and Castleton to win the ECAC East title. The Cadets will host a quarterfinal game in the NCAA Division III tournament this weekend, hosting Wentworth, who Plymouth State 3-1 in the first round.
“This is what you play for,” McShane said, “and I think the guys realize that. To get home ice in the first round and to host the final four in your league is a great honor. It’s a great honor for all four teams, and the fans and our players.”
After the season is over, Baker will concentrate on finishing his degree, and after the season is over, he’ll return to Canada, either as a firefighter or a policeman.
“I’m going to apply to be a police officer back in Canada or a firefighter,” Baker said. “The first one to say, ‘yes,’ I’m going to go with it.”
Even this weekend, Baker might be called on to help lay down the law or put out a fire. He’ll just be doing it on the ice.