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  3. Nick Baptiste feels at home playing in the bigger rink

Nick Baptiste feels at home playing in the bigger rink

Vesa Suonsyrjä | Translation : Siru Takala

Nick Baptiste, 26, now a productive Ilves forward, grew up into an NHL player in Ottawa. Baptiste has recorded 10 goals and 10 assists this season, and in this interview, he will talk about his career as well as his time with Ilves.

Nick Baptiste, who grew up in Ottawa in a suburb called Barrhaven about 15 minutes outside the downtown area, started playing hockey a little older than usual.

– I joined my first hockey club at 8 years old. A little bit later than most. The first club that I joined was called the Nepean Raiders. I played there for the majority of my minor hockey career.

Baptiste also played other sports when he was younger, but he ended up choosing hockey.

– I played American football, football, basketball, and also ran track and field as a kid. I truly love hockey and ultimately decided to try focus all my attention on hockey.

The forward has played the right wing for the most of his career, but he also played as a center when he was younger. For a hockey player from Ottawa, his idols are surprising.

– I grew up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I had many idols, two of my major idols in hockey were Mats Sundin and Jarome Iginla, but my biggest idol growing up was basketball player Kobe Bryant, reveals Nick Baptiste.

Minor hockey with the world’s best

At the age of 16, Nick Baptiste moved approximately 500 kilometers away from his Ottawa home to Sudbury, a city of 160 000 people, to play in the OHL which is one of North America’s main minor leagues.

– In 2011, at age 16 I was drafted by the Sudbury Wolves. I moved there and was welcomed into the city of Sudbury from the moment I arrived. I really enjoyed my time there and really am appreciative to my billet family, the Duchesnes’ Ivan and Colette, who welcomed me into their home for 4 years.

Baptiste scored more points every season compared to the last (27, 48, 89), but in the middle of his last year in the minors he was traded to the Erie Otters who are located about 500 kilometers away from both Ottawa and Sudbury.

– I was traded from Sudbury to Erie to play with the likes of Connor McDavid, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome to try and win a league Title. Unfortunately, we fell short in the finals, but it was an experience I could never forget, says Baptiste, who recorded 53 points in 41 games for the Erie Otters.

Talking about Connor McDavid – the best player in the world. Baptiste knew him already from the 2013 World U18 Championship tournament where Canada won gold. We asked Baptiste more about McDavid.

– Connor is obviously such an amazing player with every quality you could ask for as a player. The great thing about Connor that I learned throughout my time in Erie with him but also with Team Canada is how great of a person he is off the ice. We were really good friends and teammates throughout our time together.

Drafted into the NHL, becoming a pro, and the 47 NHL games

The tournament that went well and in which Baptiste was the team’s second highest point scorer as well as his productive years in the minors made him an increasingly better candidate for the NHL Draft that was drawing near. In the 2013 Draft, Buffalo Sabres drafted Baptiste in the third round.

– I was extremely excited and grateful to be drafted by Buffalo. I worked very hard to put myself in position to be drafted so no it definitely was not a surprise but truly an honour, reminisces Nick excitedly.

Nick Baptiste played in five different teams during six seasons as a professional player in the AHL. After playing for three seasons in the Rochester Americans, he played for Milwaukee Admirals, Toronto Marlies, Belleville Senators, and Texas Stars. Baptiste played a total of 299 games and scored 150 points.

– I really enjoyed my time in the AHL. It is a very difficult league with tremendous players and lots of veterans that make the game very fast and intriguing strategically. I owe a lot to my coaches and teammates in Rochester early in my career for developing and caring for me as a player and a person.

In 2016–2018, Baptiste played 47 games with the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL. His first NHL game was on October 18th, 2016, against the Calgary Flames. What were the most memorable parts about these games to Nick?

– It was definitely a dream come true to play in the NHL. One of the most special moments about my first game was that my family was able to be in attendance. I’d say a couple of my best memories in the NHL were scoring my first goal in my second game as well as playing in Ottawa in front of my family and friends, recounts Baptiste, who scored 7 goals and 3 assists in 47 NHL games.

To Finland, Tampere, and Ilves

Last season Nick Baptiste was playing for the Texas Stars and recorded 12+11=23 points in 34 games. In July, Ilves announced the Canadian forward’s one-year deal with the club. How much did you know about Finland beforehand, and did you have other options you could have gone with?

– I didn’t know much coming here. I knew that it was a great city, but I’ve been even more impressed with how amazing and nice the people of Tampere are. I have found [adapting] very easy. The people are so nice and helpful with my English speaking. I haven’t missed too much of the culture from North America, just my friends and family.

– Yes, I had some other options, but when I decided to leave North America the fit with Ilves felt like the right one for my career. My teammates have been amazing. Every guy on the team has been so welcoming and has really helped me out.

One thing that changes when coming to Europe is the size of the rink. Have you played in the bigger rink before, and how has it been playing in it so far?

– I have played in a big rink growing up, but not for a full season. I feel like with every game I’m getting more and more used to it. I have really enjoyed it; I think it really suits my game.

The regular season has reached its halfway mark, and you have scored 10 goals and 10 assists. Are you satisfied with your game overall at this point? Have you thought about your future?

– I am happy about my game. I still think I can produce offensively more, but I think it is definitely coming for me and I’m still getting plenty of chances. I’m confident in my ability, I have nothing planned as of right now, but I’d say anything is an option at this point.

There is one particular thing that has risen above the others in his mind when Nick has been playing in Hakametsä arena and the new Nokia Arena.

– I loved my time at Hakametsä. I felt like I really could feel the history and the passion that the fans put into that arena. Nokia is obviously an amazing arena, and hopefully we can make memories here the same as Haka.

That one thing – the Ilves fans.

– The supporters are some of the best I’ve ever played in front of in my career. They are so passionate and faithful. It has been an absolute honour and joy to wear the Ilves logo and represent each and every supporter every night, says Baptiste.

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