By Ross Forman
He learned to skate at age 3 and then started begging his mom to let him join the hockey group. Connor Baldwin has loved the sport ever since.
His first game was a house league game with his dad coaching the team, and Baldwin had gotten his pads only the day before from friends in the area.
As a squirt, playing for Winnetka, in the state semifinal game at the Cyclones rink, Baldwin tallied one of his most memorable on-ice moments, ever. It was a faceoff in the offensive zone with less than a minute left in the game. Winnetka won the draw back to Baldwin, who skated to the middle of the ice, while a teammate was camped out in front of the goalie. Baldwin shot the puck high and it hit his friend in the head, then went in the net.
Baldwin’s goal led to the victory.
Flash-forward to last season and Baldwin was again celebrating a memorable victory – over Providence Catholic in the state championship game at the United Center.
Baldwin, in his first season skating for New Trier Green, was a state champion.
The Trevians last season became back-to-back champions, and enter the 2017-2018 season as champions in four of the past five seasons.
“Last year was some of the best hockey I have ever played,” said Baldwin, 17, who lives in Winnetka. “The team was always together, gelling very well from the beginning (of the season) – and it showed on the ice. I was always in awe watching some of the plays that we made. I will always remember last season.”
Particularly, his first-ever Loyola Quad, when, on one day, four New Trier teams tackle their arch-rival Loyola.
“I walked out (of the locker room) to most of my school cheering me on. I have never played in front of so many people. It was amazing to know that hockey was so popular at New Trier,” said Baldwin, a right-handed shooting defenseman who also last season recalled a memorable Trevians’ win in the annual Bauer Tournament.
“It was an amazing feeling, playing (at the United Center) in front of that many people; it was breathtaking. I cannot imagine any other way to get that feeling,” he said.
So will the Trevians return to the UC?
Odds are high, as this season’s Trevians boast one of the best defensive units in the state.
“Our team is going to be very different from last year,” Baldwin said. “I really think the group of guys that we have this year is a great team. I have played with a bunch of these guys before and we have always come together and had a great season. It’s not last year’s team, but I think that we can beat anyone in the state and go back to the UC.
“We’re really looking forward to the season.”
Especially with senior Hayden Wieczorek back in goal, as he was the netminder when Green defeated Providence last March, 4-2. The 2017 state title was the Trevians’ 12th in Coach Bob Melton’s 20 seasons, and Melton is back for Season No. 21.
“I think our defense will win games; I really think that scoring will be tough on us,” Baldwin said.
But yes, there is pressure to repeat.
“Last year, we had a lot of really great players. But this is a new team, so we have to realize that it’s going to be a different type of season. The returners last year worked their butts off for the new kids to get a championship, and I want to do the same for the new kids this year,” Baldwin said.
A senior, Baldwin previously skated for the Falcons, and he also plays lacrosse for New Trier.
“The (sports) are very similar in how the game flows, so I think (lacrosse) helps with my vision and decision-making,” on the ice, said Baldwin, who is an offensive-defenseman who likes to control the game and make big plays.
He models his game after Scott Niedermayer, “because of how he could take the puck and make an offensive play anywhere on the ice,” Baldwin said. “I want to have a presence like that on the ice.”
Baldwin said his shot has gotten better over the summer; it’s more accurate and harder.
“I would like to lead my team both on and off the ice this season, and I would like to be the one that coach can trust to be on the ice at any time,” said Baldwin, who praised local coaching legends Rafe Aybar and Tom Gullen for his skill-development over the years. Aybar taught Baldwin how to skate, while Gullen taught him how to play the game.
Slapshots with Connor Baldwin …
- Nickname: Wienie
- Jersey number: 27 – “I picked (that number) after my favorite player growing up, Scott Niedermayer.”
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 160
- Off-the-ice: He runs a business with his brother, Baldwin Cleans and Moves – a deck, grill and trash can cleaning service and a small moving company.
- College: Undecided, but considering University of Washington, University of Colorado, USC and Michigan.
- Expected college major: Aerospace engineering
- Dream job: Work for SpaceX or Lockheed Martin
- Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
- Favorite NHL player: Duncan Keith
- Favorite sport (other than hockey): Lacrosse or golf
- Favorite pro athlete: Connor McDavid
- Favorite app: Snapchat
- Favorite TV show: The Office
- Favorite sports movie: Miracle
- Hardest slapshot on New Trier Green: Last year it was Michael Graham; this year it is Tyler Baird
- Who on your team will, someday, make a great coach (excluding yourself): Costa Pavlopoulos
- Best High School jersey (other than New Trier): Maine
- Worst High School jersey (other than New Trier): Loyola Gold
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.