No NHL enforcer has blended brains with brawn better than Ken Baumgartner

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No NHL enforcer has blended brains with brawn better than Ken Baumgartner. In 1984 the Bomber was voted the Western Hockey Leagueӳ first scholastic player of the year. Nearly two decades later, the Harvard Business School called him to the podium to rename him Ken Baumgartner, Master of Business Administration. In between these two academic honours, the Bomber knocked many I.Q. points out of rivalsҠheads with left jabs and right uppercuts. The kid from Flin Flon, Manitoba had never realistically dreamed of being an NHLer when he was a teenager. He was hoping to get a hockey scholarship from an American college or an academic scholarship to attend the University of Saskatchewan or Manitoba. "I always enjoyed numbers," he said a few years back, "and if I hadnӴ ended up playing in Prince Albert or turning pro, I was scheduled to go to University of Manitoba or Saskatchewan to get a Commerce Degree. IӤ probably have been an accountant by now." Still, he wasnӴ a guy who would give up. After all, his idol was fellow Flin Flon native and Philly captain, Bobby Clarke. "You certainly have to admire his work ethic and determination, both as a hockey player and as management," Ken explains. "A lot of that character was instilled where we both grew up נthe harshness of the environment forced him to be a strong person. This harshness provided a great foundation for Baumgartnerӳ play נhe trained like a hard rock miner. "Thatӳ the one thing IӶe been able to do to get the edge on other players," he explains. "To live a good lifestyle and to keep in good shape. With two players, the one who stays in better shape is going to add a year on to the end of his career."


Initially, no one thought that the brainy kid would have a professional career. His poor skating held him back and he barely earned a tryout with the Prince Albert Raiders. This was prior to his senior year in high school in 1983 and two years later he would hold up the Memorial Cup. Baumgartner might have "enjoyed numbers," but his Memorial Cup stats werenӴ the standard quotients that auditors reviewed. "I think my penalty minutes were ten short of the tournament record," he smiles.

Following high school graduation, and while still playing junior, Ken worked for an accounting firm during the mornings and attended University of Saskatchewan extension courses at night. Ken also credits his coaches at this time for helping him to develop as an individual נto give him a realistic purpose. "[Coach] Terry Simpson נas well as [Assistant Coach] Rick Wilson made us better hockey players, but also better people," the Bomber remembers. "There was always an emphasis on accountability and education. If you make it to the pros you make it נif not, youӲe going to be a better person for it." Ken Baumgartner has made a number of astute career moves along the way. One of them was traveling to Switzerland to play the European game rather than staying an additional season as an Overage Junior. This provided him with the opportunity to refine his skills before returning to the North American wars. "Instead of brawling all year," he remembers, "I was able to go to Switzerland and work on my skills. I think without that year in Switzerland my development may have been a couple years behind so I was able to enjoy a couple years earlier in the NHL."

Back in New Haven that spring, his role in the American Hockey League changed one hundred and eighty degrees. "I fully expected it," he remembers. "I established myself in the thirteen regular season games and the playoff rounds." The Bomber continued to play for both the New Haven and parent Los Angeles teams during the following two seasons. Then he was fortunate to be traded to the New York Islanders. His feistiness was very important to the Isles at that time, as they had some smaller players who needed protection. "It was a team that was just about to turn it around," he explains. "It was good timing on my part נI was able to give them some physical play and the finesse players like Paddy Lafontaine responded.


The Bomber was also lucky to play for Al Arbour, who had the foresight to move him from the D to a forward position. "Al was a student of the game he played and coached for many years," the Bomber explains. "He foresaw the game getting quicker. He felt that the nets moving up a couple feet was going to change the game of defense and felt that I would be better programmed as a left winger at the time. It wasnӴ a change I made happily but it was a change that probably kept me in the league for an extra five years." What really kept Baumgartner in the NHL for a total of a dozen seasons [After the Islanders, he played for the Leafs, Mighty Ducks and Bruins.] was once again his mind. He learned how to play smarter as an enforcer. "When youӲe young, excited and inexperienced youӬl probably do just about anything," he says. "A player plays for a number of years and they loose a little enthusiasm for the role but also gains experience and the smarts of when and when not to get involved. He probably takes less risks because he doesnӴ want to hurt the team." The Bomber also had the smarts to finish his education and completed an undergraduate degree while still playing in the NHL. Also, he further prepared himself for a business career by working with the National Hockey League PlayersҠAssociation. Ken Baumgartner MBA now wears designer suits and is employed as a Private Wealth Manager with Goldman Sachs in Los Angeles. He looks after his clients' bank accounts rather than his teammates' heads. It's a long way from the harsh environment of Flin Flon.
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