Baker signs with University of Regina

Early Christmas gift for 18-year-old goaltender
Section: 
Sports

By Josh Howald

Christmas came early this year for Morgan Baker.

Morgan Baker signed a letter on intent last week to play hockey for the University of Regina. (Josh Howald photo)

 

The 18-year-old goaltender signed a letter of intent last week to accept a scholarship to become a University of Regina Cougar.

"It is one of my life goals realized," said Baker on Sunday afternoon. "There is a huge sense of relief, and I'm just so happy I get to go play at a great school for a great hockey program."

It was the end result of a whirlwind week that included sleeping on an airport floor, flying for the first time, touring a university and deciding on where to spend the next portion of her life.

"I know I made the right decision, and I'm very excited," she said. "It kind of came out of the blue."

Last season, Baker didn't know if she would even be able to extend her hockey career beyond this season. She didn't have a team to play for, and was lucky to catch on with the Bluewater Hawks of the Provincial Women's Hockey League. She attended the team's final tryout, and impressed the Hawks enough to offer up a spot.

The Hawks play out of Strathroy, so this season Baker is living in London to make life, and school, easier. She had been contacted by a handful of schools, but had never considered the University of Regina until two weeks ago. Sarah Hodges, a Kincardine native and the head coach of the U of R women's hockey program, was in Ontario to scout a goaltender from Ottawa who was playing in a Kitchener tournament. She was reminded of Baker - who shadowed the Cougars when they visited Kincardine for the Great Lakes Challenge in 2012 - and drove to Brampton to see Baker play.

"She is a good skater and she competes hard - she battles," said Hodges on Monday. "Those are the two biggest building blocks. She is a good goalie now, but she is going to get better because she works hard. I sent video to our goalie coach, and he said she easily had the most potential."

The University paid for Baker to fly out for a 24-hour recruiting visit. Her father Dave - her biggest fan - went along as well. Plane issues left them to sleep on an airport floor overnight before they finally got to Saskatchewan. It was Baker's first time in a plane.

"We got off the plane and went right to the arena," said Baker. "We met with the goalie coach and saw the arena and dressing room, then did the school tour. It was everything I was looking for."

Baker plans to do an undergrad in kinisiology and her masters in occupational therapy. She met with the department head and toured the school, city and residence. When Hodges asked her how long she needed to make up her mind, Baker told her she had already decided. Hodges grabbed a pen, and Baker signed a letter of intent at the Regina Airport, causing her to nearly miss her flight back to Ontario.

She was back in the crease for the Hawks a few days later. Heading into weekend action, Baker boasted an impressive goals against average of 1.4 and a sparkling save percentage of .941. The Hawks are hovering around the .500 mark, 11th overall in the PWHL.

Baker said her strength in the crease is her quickness. At just 5'3", she was relieved to see the other Regina goaltenders were the same size as she was.

"I think the trend right now with CIS coaches is getting big goalies," said Hodges. "Whereas we don't think it matters how big you are. If you can't move, you're not going to be very good. I think Morgan has done very well without having the same resources as a lot of the city-based goaltenders."

Baker credits her father and brother, Matt, for getting her to this level.

"They have always been there for me, and there have been some tough battles to get to this point, and definitely a few tears," she said.

And while her family will miss watching her play, they think she made the right decision and are also excited about the opportunity.

"Dad said it was my decision, and he said he agreed I made the best choice - even if it is (more than) a 24-hour drive there," Baker laughed. "He already has my helmet designed for me."

In addition to her family, Baker also wanted to thank those who have supported and sponsored her as she has pursued her goal of playing university hockey. That includes Canadian Water/O/A Vending, Presto-Crest, Super Heat, Lakeside Chevrolet Buick GMC, Sleepers Bed Gallery, Bill Shewfelt Financial, Dar-Lyn Pools and Spa, Eian Farrell Re/Max, Jen Cook Co-Operators, Davey Linklater Funeral Home, Dr. Deller-Quinn, the Bruce Steakhouse, The Kincardine Independent, Bill and Linda MacTavish, Sally and Roger Troke and her grandparents Grandma and Papa Martindale and Nanny Baker.