Story by Jeff Gard/jgsportsmedia.com
Dawson Baker loves to be on the ice.
That includes playing in the Ontario Hockey League for the Kingston Frontenacs, but with the season still currently postponed, the Baltimore resident still gets on the ice – to fish.
“Anything to be out being active and just having fun,” Baker remarked. “That’s the kind of stuff I like to do.”
Baker noted activities are limited due to provincial restrictions.
“I’ve been trying to stay as active as I can at my house and do workouts and do a little bit of cardio,” he said. “Other than that, fishing and hunting is pretty much all I’ve been doing.”
Head coach and general manager Paul McFarland has returned to the Frontenacs after a three-year stint as an assistant coach in the NHL, including last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has had to get to know his players virtually, but says he keeps learning more about Baker, who will play for him as an overage forward.
“He seems like a great kid and I know he plays the game with a lot of passion just from watching video from last year…has a bit of an edge to him,” McFarland said. “Obviously he’s one of the older players…we’re going to have high expectations for him when our year does start. Hopefully it’s going to be a great experience for him as a 20-year-old.
“The things I seem to learn more about Dawson is he likes to hunt and fish,” McFarland added. “I called him (recently) and he was out ice fishing so obviously a guy that is well-versed and I’m just looking forward to being able to coach him.”
Baker began playing rep hockey in Cobourg and Baltimore before making the jump to the triple-A level with the Quinte Red Devils. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2016 OHL draft by the Sudbury Wolves. He played 10 games with the Wolves during the 2016-17 season before joining the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Trenton Golden Hawks.
“It wasn’t worth me staying up there to not improve as a player and just sit and not really get time to play,” Baker said. “When I went (to Trenton) I got more of a chance to improve and it helped a lot.”
The season culminated with the Golden Hawks playing in the RBC Cup national junior A championship in Cobourg.
“It was pretty surreal,” Baker said. “We had the Dudley Hewitt (Central Canada championship) in Trenton as well so not too much travel that year, but it was pretty cool being able to have all my friends and family come out and watch.”
Baker played 61 games for Sudbury the following season before being traded at the start of the 2018-10 OHL campaign to Kingston where he’s now played 123 games for the Frontenacs during the past two seasons.
“That trade meant everything to me,” he said. “It moved me a little bit closer to home, the team gave me more of an opportunity, my billets are absolutely excellent there, so I just felt a lot more comfortable in Kingston.”
Describing himself as a two-way forward who likes to “throw my body around,” Baker has that edge to his game that McFarland mentioned. He also scored an OHL career high 19 goals last season.
“I like blocking shots in the d-zone and not getting scored against,” he said. “When it’s my turn to jump up, I like to score and finish checks and I guess if I have to fight I don’t mind doing that.”
Baker know to stay in the lineup “you’ve just got to do the little things right and you’ve got to be good in your own zone first.”
McFarland appreciates Baker scored 19 goals last season and hopes he can mix that offensive prowess with his grit and playing well in his own end.
“We’re going to expect all of our guys to play a complete 200-foot game so scoring is one thing and it’s another thing to make sure it doesn’t go in our net,” he said. “Ultimately as an older player he’ll have high expectations from us as a coaching staff, but I think that’s something he’s going to be able to meet the challenge of.”
Baker welcomes the opportunity to take on a leadership role.
“I just come to the rink every day to compete and lead by example,” he said. “If anyone needs to talk, I’m obviously there for anyone. I’m a team-first kind of guy and will be there for everyone.”
Kingston has a young star player in Shane Wright, who entered the league a year early last season as a 15-year-old after being granted exceptional status. He led the Frontenacs with 39 goals and 66 points.
“He’s phenomenal. It was fun going to the rink every day, not only getting to play beside him, but watch him,” Baker said. “He’s a superstar and it’s just amazing watching that kid play and the things he can do.”
With this being his final year of eligibility, Baker is hopeful the season can get going. Looking ahead, he’s starting to get offers from Canadian university hockey teams, which he’s grateful for, while also still considering his options. He has professional hockey ambitions.
Decisions on his future, though, can wait.
“Right now I’m honestly just worried about getting stuff going with Kingston,” he said. “I hope we do start. I haven’t played in a playoff game yet, so that would be kind of cool. I just want to play as many games as I can (with Kingston).”
FRONTENACS PARTNERSHIP WITH COUGARS
Meanwhile, the Kingston Frontenacs have a new partnership with the OJHL’s Cobourg Cougars, which was announced last June.
The partnership was announced before McFarland returned to the Frontenacs, but it’s one he’s very supportive of.
“I think it’s great for both organizations,” he said. “Ultimately we want to try to help Cobourg with giving some of our younger players who are obviously not quite ready for the OHL level, but put them in a position where they’re still going to be playing against older players and have a chance to get better on a daily basis at a great level that’s only a couple hours down the road. It’s very easy for us to either have them come down to a practice with us in Kingston or I’ll be able to jump down the road to see them play games or practices.
“Really fortunate I have a good relationship with (Cougars director of hockey operations) Bob Breckles as well with Cobourg so that allows us to be in constant communication to make sure we’re all on the same page,” McFarland added. “Both sides want to help each other and that’s why the relationship is going to be a perfect fit.”