All hail the Hall of Famer
Moose legend inducted into American Hockey League HOF today
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Nolan Baumgartner’s hockey career didn’t arch the way he and many others may had once envisioned. It’s fair to say it worked out better that way.
Following a remarkable junior career that led him to be selected 10th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Baumgartner was expected to quickly produce on the blue line in the big leagues.
It didn’t quite happen like that, though.
The touted defenceman’s lone crack at a full season in the big leagues wouldn’t come until he was 30 in 2005, with his fourth different NHL organization — his second stint with Vancouver Canucks — when he tallied 34 points in 70 games.
Aside from that one year of bliss, the Calgary, product bounced between the NHL and American Hockey League for the rest of his career. But it was in the minors where he found his calling as a leader and flourished as a reliable two-way defenceman.
Baumgartner went on to enjoy a 16-year professional career spent with six different clubs that included 390 points, three AHL all-star nods and a Calder Cup Finals appearance (Manitoba Moose in 2009).
Today, the former blue-liner will be immortalized among the greatest to ever lace ’em up in the AHL in Laval, Que. as a member of its Hall of Fame class of 2023.
The Manitoba Moose assistant coach, joined by his wife and son, will be honoured at a luncheon alongside decorated forward Keith Aucoin, prolific goal scorer Dave Creighton and the late Bill Torrey, a longtime executive in the league.
Baumgartner, an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks at the time, was in a meeting when AHL president and CEO Scott Howson rang his line at the beginning of the 2021 season.
“I kept hanging up on the number but he kept calling and calling, so I finally picked it up and it was Scott on the other end, notifying me that I got inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Baumgartner told the Free Press in an earlier phone interview. “I was actually in complete shock. It was a quick call because I was in a meeting and I went back into that meeting, and by later that night it started to settle in on what an honour it is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“It means a whole lot. Reflecting back on my hockey career, it was a lot of games in the American league — it was 878 games in the AHL. I think back on it now, I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.”
Baumgartner spent more than six years of his career playing for the Manitoba Moose (the top affiliate of the Canucks at the time). Most of that time was enjoyed during the back-half of his time as a professional, when his influence in the locker room became just as, if not more important, than his on-ice production.
“Just trying to pass on the knowledge to these guys that do get sent down and they expect to play in the NHL right away, that it doesn’t always work like that and I was a prime example of that,” said Baumgartner, now an assistant coach with the Moose.
“Just to think back on it, it was such a great experience for myself to go through. It taught you lots: humility, perseverance, staying with it. A lot of times, your dream was to play in the NHL and I got to do that too. But playing in the (AHL) really taught you how to not only be a pro hockey player, but life lessons off the ice. Playing in the league was really something I’m grateful for and it has a big impact on the person I am today.”
Jimmy Roy skated in a lineup with Baumgartner for three seasons with the Moose, a time when they were two of the elder statesmen on the team.
“It’s a tremendous honour for Nolan. It says lot about the person that he is because I think everybody knows he was a really good hockey player…”
“You don’t play as long as he did in the National Hockey League and American Hockey League without the love of the game and without being a good person,” said Roy, whose jersey was retired by the Moose in 2020.
“The person himself — he was a leader on our team. There’s people that are put in leadership roles because they played a long time — Nolan was a good person, good to people, he was good to players, good to the younger kids. He was looked upon as a leader for all those things and he was a good player secondary.”
Roy said he didn’t know Baumgartner was a former top-10 pick while they were playing together. It’s a testament to his character, he added.
“It shows the way he handles things and the reason why he was a good person, because I never even knew that. I just knew him as Nolan Baumgartner the person, the player. And that’s the way he treated people.”
Baumgartner said he leaned on some valuable lessons from the likes of Craig Berube, Dale Hunter and Olaf Kolzig early in his career. As he grew older, Rob Zettler and Trent Yawney became excellent examples of how to be a family man.
“It was a great career, had a ton of fun. There was down times, but there was more good times,” Baumgartner said.
“Just playing the game I love, making a living at it and pretty much everything I have in my life is because of the game.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.
Updated on Monday, February 6, 2023 8:32 AM CST: Adds web headline
Updated on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 9:20 AM CST: Corrects to Rob Zettler