For the third and final day of Hockey Weekend Across America, writers of Aerys Sports NHL, were told to write uplifting stories about hockey people. For any hockey fan, this topic should be easy, as we all have that one person that inspired us to love the game. For me, Nolan Baumgartner was that inspiration. (Surprised right?)
For those of you that haven’t read my previous two articles about Hockey Weekend and where my love for the sport began, I’ll enlighten you a little bit. It all started at age four when my mother brought me to my first hockey game to see the Portland Pirates. We would stand at the glass for every practice and that’s where I first met Nolan. He tossed a puck over the eight foot tall glass to me and I was forever hooked.
For those of you who don’t know, Nolan Baumgartner is a first round, tenth overall pick for the Washington Capitals in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft and was a mere twenty years old when I first met him. You can read all about the bond that I created with Nolan in the Hockey Chronicles.
If you were to ask my mother why Nolan and I became so close, she would describe our bond as a brother and sister relationship, as we were both only children. She would tell you that I looked up to him as a big brother that took me under his wing and allowed me to share his successes and accomplishments with him. For the most part she is right. While I was growing up, I did find Nolan to be much like an older brother. Yet as I grew older into my teenage and adult years, I have come to respect Nolan as an individual that I can proudly call my friend. He is someone who, at my age, saw a little girl in the stands and made her day. He accepted my drawings, would stay for long stretches of time after games just to talk to us. At the time I didn’t realize how truly remarkable such simple actions were, but looking back I am truly amazed. I’m sure after playing a sometimes grueling and always challenging game, the last thing he wanted to do was stand in the cold and chit chat. Yet, every night he would stand with me under the street lights of Portland and talk.
Why is Nolan so admirable and respectable? Well, that answer is simple. You see, while it takes an entire ten seconds to lift a puck and toss it over the glass to a child, only about one tenth of an entire team will take the time to perform such a simple task. The same goes for tapping a child’s hand as the enter and exit the player’s bench from the locker room, although admittedly, more players are apt to do this. Nolan takes the time every game to toss over pucks to little kids. He makes them feel special by noticing them and showing his appreciation by performing such a simple gesture. If he breaks a stick in a game, you can bet the first child he finds afterward will be the proud owner of that blade. It’s something that may mean nothing to an athlete but means the world to a young child.
In the past four consecutive seasons Nolan has had the honor of wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey (Manitoba and Chicago), not including a season for the Norfolk Admirals. An honor that is well deserved and couldn’t belong to a better player. Nolan exemplifies everything there is about being a leader, on and off the ice. In a Chicago Wolves exclusive Nolan stated:
“Everything I have is because of the game of hockey. I have a wife which is who I met, if I wan’t playing hockey I would have never met her,obviously would have never met her. I have a house we have somewhere to live its all because of the game. I think that it’s something that you need to take a step back and look at and appreciate what you have. So I don’t think its like I said I would never change anything everyone’s given a path to take and you choose to take it or not.” (via @ChicagoWolvesHockey on YouTube)
He is someone that respects the game and doesn’t take it for granted. He doesn’t let the fact that he has played in the major league affect his game or ego for that matter. He takes everything in stride and remains down to Earth appreciating the game, his teammates, fans and other people he has met along the way.
He is going to be playing in his 1,000th game of his career this upcoming week, and I couldn’t praise him enough. 1,000 games he has suited up for, that’s at least 1,000 pucks he has thrown over the glass to little kids and at least 1,000 lives he has touched. I am truly grateful that I am one of them. If you were to take a look at his Twitter account, you would find that at least 2,760 people agree with me, or even his Facebook page with 167 ‘Likes.’ Granted it isn’t as much as Tyler Seguin, but to know that he has made some sort of influence on over two-thousand people playing the majority of his career in the minor league, stands for something truly remarkable.
I have followed this man’s success since I was four years old and have always admired him. He taught me about the best league in the world and allowed me to share a passion that most people could only dream about. He is truly one of the most respected men among the American and National Hockey League and is destined for great things. With his contract being up in July of this year, I will be curious to see if he is signed again or if he will take up coaching or perhaps cooking. When I asked him recently which path he would choose, the reply I got was:
“Hopefully Jake likes my cooking and takes my advice because dad is always right.”
Either way, I will still be cheering for him, even after he is long retired and his son is playing, I will always be the #1 Baumer Fan.