Dartmouth transfer Matt Baker still getting legs under him for UMass hockey after year off

  • UMass forward Matt Baker is finding his feet with the Minutemen after transferring from Dartmouth. The Minutemen host the Big Green in a free exhibition at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Matt Baker is finding his feet with the Minutemen after transferring from Dartmouth. The Minutemen host the Big Green in a free exhibition at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2021 4:04:02 PM

AMHERST — Matt Baker may have to double check he’s hopping over the boards onto the correct bench.

The UMass graduate transfer forward played three seasons at Dartmouth, and the Big Green will visit the Mullins Center for a free exhibition at 7 p.m. Saturday. He skated in 96 games for the Ivy League institution, which didn’t compete in the 2020-21 season, compiling 19 goals and 37 points.

“It'll be weird but I'm looking forward to it… should be pretty exciting. I skated with some of these guys for three years and know them pretty well so yeah, I'm excited,” Baker said. “It'll be fun.”

He had options after finishing his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth. The NCAA granted a blanket waiver for a year of extra eligibility to everyone that competed during the 2020-21 academic year. The Ivy League changed its policy on graduate students and academic redshirts in February, so he could have returned to the Big Green. Trying to play professionally in the minor leagues or in the Canadian major junior system was also an option.

“With COVID it was so weird with the pro situation because people were getting knocked down and there weren’t seasons in the AHL for some teams. There was a thought about it to maybe see if I could get a couple games in, but it seemed right that I was able to do a master’s [degree] here,” Baker said.

He opted for the transfer portal and landed at UMass in large part thanks to associate head coach Jared DeMichiel.

“UMass was one of the only schools that all three coaches seemed like a great fit,” Baker said.

Before UMass’ season-opening loss to Minnesota State earlier this month, Baker last played a competitive hockey game March 7, 2020, at Dartmouth’s Thompson Arena, a 5-4 overtime loss to Princeton that ended the Big Green’s season.

“It’s been a long time. It was a long time coming,” Baker said. “I actually got here in the summer, so I was able to train and skate with the guys pretty early, which was great, kind of got into the groove of things. You start to enjoy it and realize how much I missed it when we finally got back on the ice.”

He’s appeared in all four games so far and at times looked like he took a year and a half off from the game. Baker has just one point, an assist at AIC last weekend, and only two shots. He’s winning just 50 percent of his faceoffs. The Barrie, Ontario, native has played either on the third or fourth line the past three games after working as an extra forward in the season opener.

“My first impressions are this is a kid that didn’t play hockey for a year and a half and didn’t know if he ever would play hockey again. I feel like he took his foot off the gas and it takes time to get that back,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “You can train all summer in the weight room, you’re not in shape until you play games.”

He and fellow Ivy transfer Cam Donaldson (Cornell) are in similar positions. Carvel was hoping for more from the pair, as both have more than 80 games of experience but haven’t reached the same levels for the Minutemen this season.

“They’re trying to find the player that they were. It’s part of the reason I’m optimistic about this team. Baker and Donaldson haven’t given us much of anything,” Carvel said. “We need those guys. They’ve played a lot of college hockey. To this point they haven’t made an impact in a positive way.”

Baker acknowledged that he’s a few steps further away than he wants to be.

“I’m trying to get my legs back. Hopefully I can get back soon, sooner than later. But yeah, it might be a little bit longer,” Baker said. “It can be (frustrating), I’m trying to keep a level head and realize that it is a process, coming back, you know, haven't played in a year and a half so trying to get back into it and get back to the fast-paced game.”

Carvel, the staff and the team can see the potential, however. The Minutemen have gone .500 through two series integrating a host of new players, and recognize the places where they can improve.

“That’s a positive for me that those kids will keep getting better, our team will keep getting better,” Carvel said. “That’s the price of winning: people move up, move on and it’s the process right now.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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