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Baker goes where few ECHLers have gone lately

by Brian Compton
Scoring 50 goals in the ECHL used to be commonplace. Heading into the 2008-09 season, the feat had been accomplished 41 times.

But due to recent strides that have seen hundreds of ECHL players rewarded with promotions to the American Hockey League, it's rare that anyone has a chance to reach the 50-goal plateau.

On Tuesday night, however, Florida Everblades forward Kevin Baker became the first player in eight years to score 50 goals when he erased a 2-1 deficit with 1:54 left in regulation in an eventual 3-2 shootout loss to the Charlotte Checkers at Germain Arena. The last player to tally 50 goals was Toledo's Andrew Williamson back in the 2000-01 campaign.

"That was exciting," Baker told "I'm having the best year of my career. It's too bad that we lost, but it was still a good milestone. It's one of those things that I take as a bonus of having a good team and a good season."

Baker has always enjoyed success at the ECHL level, but never really had an opportunity to reach such a milestone. He scored 29 goals in 44 games with the Texas Wildcatters last season following a brief stint in Europe. He appeared in 62 contests the previous campaign with Texas, tallying 36 goals and 45 assists. He had two separate call-ups to the AHL that season.

Florida coach Malcolm Cameron was behind the bench of Texas for every one of Baker's 65 goals with the Wildcatters. Cameron didn't hesitate when asked if he felt Baker was capable of tallying 50 goals in a season.

"I think two years ago when I had him his first season in Texas, he was off to a great start and then he got called up to Toronto and Milwaukee, which kind of kept him away from our team for a while," Cameron said. "I certainly felt he was capable of 50 that year. He's always been capable of putting up these types of numbers, and I'm glad to see he's doing it."

Baker is one of the key reasons why Florida sits atop the South Division with two weeks remaining in the regular season. The former seventh-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Kings (1999) leads the league with 93 points in 66 games.

"I take pride in it," Baker said. "I like scoring. It's fun for me. Even if it's No. 40 or No. 5, I still celebrate it the same way. I have fun doing it and I'm enjoying it. I try to work hard every day. I give credit to my teammates. You can't do it yourself. I've been playing with some crafty guys who find me and get me the puck. I've been able to put the puck in the net through them."

Despite his remarkable success this season, Baker has played in only one AHL game, which was with the Rochester Americans. However, it appears much of that is due to personal reasons.

"It was more my choice," Baker said. "I had a two-way contract, but I kind of decided that I wanted to stay down here. I had a shot at 50 and leading the league. I wanted to stay down here and finish it out here."

Cameron believes the fact that Baker is just three months shy of his 30th birthday is also a factor.

"I think it's his age," Cameron admitted. "When you're 29 years of age … the American League for the most part is a young league. It's a top developmental league for the NHL. I think that him being 29 and the fact that he's played in the American League before certainly has hurt his cause this year. But I'm certainly happy that he's been on our roster the majority of the year."

But if an AHL team were to notice Baker's achievements this season and wanted to give him a legitimate crack in 2009-10, would the Kingston, Ontario native be willing to give the Triple-A level one more chance?

"If something comes up that's the right fit for me and my family and it's something that I want to pursue … I'm married now," said Baker, sounding quite happy where he is. "If not, I still want to play the game. If it's in the ECHL, maybe that's where I'll stay. If I get a shot somewhere, who knows? I might take it and we'll see what happens."

"I want to win … that's why I came to Florida. With the team that we have, I want to win a championship rather than have a call-up (to the AHL). We're going to have some guys come down from our affiliates, and it's only going to make us stronger. I'm looking forward to it."
-- Kevin Baker

With a league-leading 89 points, Florida certainly has to be considered one of the favorites to win the Kelly Cup. Being an annual contender was the biggest reason why Baker -- who has never won a championship -- agreed to join the Everblades.

"I want to win … that's why I came to Florida," said Baker, who had five goals in nine playoff games with Texas in 2008. "With the team that we have, I want to win a championship rather than have a call-up (to the AHL). We're going to have some guys come down from our affiliates, and it's only going to make us stronger. I'm looking forward to it."

Cameron certainly appreciates Baker's desire to win a championship rather than what could be a brief call-up to the AHL. Having coached him for three consecutive seasons, Cameron is hoping to help deliver the veteran that elusive title.

"He's been there, he's done that," Cameron said. "He's never won a championship. He's come close. I know he's committed to winning one in Florida. It certainly would be special.

"He's certainly having a heck of a season this year," Cameron added. "He played well for me in Texas the previous two years. What he's done this year is certainly really special."
Around the ECHL -- Glenn Fisher was named Goalie of the Week after notching two wins and a shutout. … Trenton Devils forward Eric Castonguay was received Player of the Week honors after notching four goals, three assists and a plus-6 rating in just three games. … Elmira Jackals forward Mike Sgroi was fined and suspended for five games for leaving the bench during a game against Dayton on March 14. … The Idaho Steelheads signed defenseman Matt Sorteberg. … Rookie forward Vince Rocco signed with the Reading Royals. … The Cincinnati Cyclones signed forward Chris D'Alvise. … Rookie defenseman Jesse Dudas signed with Charlotte. … The South Carolina Stingrays signed defenseman David Grimson.

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