By Ryan McCracken on February 9, 2018.
Every injury creates an opportunity in the Western Hockey League, and Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman Daniel Baker is making the most of his shot.
Baker was called up to the Tigers for Wednesday’s 6-0 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings after fellow blueliners Kristians Rubins and Joel Craven joined Linus Nassen on the team’s injured reserve last week. While it was only his fourth game in the Dub, and his first since Dec. 16, Tigers goaltender Michael Bullion says Baker did a lot more than just hold his own on Medicine Hat’s back end.
“I personally thought Baker was one of the best players on the ice,” said Bullion, adding the team’s younger defencemen like Baker and Cole Clayton have been making their presence known in front of the net. “They came in and they gave their all. That’s really impressive to see and it shows we really have a bright future on the blue line.”
Baker opened the season with Medicine Hat and played two games before returning to compete in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League with the Northern Alberta X-Treme. The 6-foot-3, 187-pound defenceman has nine goals and 17 assists in 20 games with the X-Treme. While he says there were some glaring differences between the CSSHL and the WHL, it didn’t seem to faze him much while shutting down some of Edmonton’s top forwards.
“It was good. I thought the speed increase was a lot from my midget league but I thought I fit in pretty well out there and it was good to make this step,” said Baker, the 26th overall pick in the 2016 bantam draft. “Unfortunately we have some injuries but I’ll take advantage of every opportunity I get.”
The 17-year-old Edmonton product finished Wednesday’s victory with a plus-one rating and a shot on goal while filling an important defensive role on a pairing with Dylan MacPherson.
“He’s a good player. He moves the puck well, he skates well, so he made my job a lot easier,” Baker said of MacPherson, adding getting positive feedback from the team’s older players means a lot coming so early in his career. “It’s awesome. You’re always looking for communication and it’s special when you get something from one of the older guys like that.”
But the praise didn’t stop at his teammates. Tigers head coach Shaun Clouston lauded the young defender’s efforts following Wednesday’s landslide win, saying he exhibited an impressive amount of poise in his own end.
“I thought he had a great game,” said Clouston. “He didn’t look overwhelmed, he didn’t look out of place. He played a solid game.”
The Tigers (27-22-7-0) return to the Canalta Centre Friday at 7:30 p.m. to host the Calgary Hitmen (16-30-5-2) in the first game of a home-and-home set.
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