The Bloomington Thunder have found their leader for the upcoming season just before the team hits the ice for the annual Main Camp tryout. Following his second year with the club, Tarek Baker has been named the third captain in team history by head coach and general manager Dennis Williams. Baker succeeds former captains Jake Slaker and Ryan Siroky who each led the Thunder over the team’s first two seasons.
“As we approach our season we wanted to have a face of our program and our leader as we go through the summer,” said Williams prior to the announcement on Twitter on Tuesday night. “We felt 100 percent comfortable having Tarek as our captain. We are looking forward to working with him and know that this is a big responsibility. When we offered it to him, he was greatly excited and wants to lead this team to a successful year.”
Baker, 19, concluded the 2015-16 season as the leading scorer for the Thunder with 49 points (20 G, 29 A) and enters his third season with the program. In his career, the Verona, WI native has the third most points, goals, and games played by any player in a Thunder uniform. He and defenseman Jeremy Davies set the record for most points in a season by a Thunder player. Prior to the inaugural season, Baker was acquired from the Des Moines Buccaneers and came to the Thunder straight out of midget hockey.
“I’m honored and excited that the coaching staff thinks of me as a guy who can get the locker room ready to go each and every day and lead by example on and off the ice,” said Baker on his new position with the Thunder. “It makes me feel good that the coaches have that faith and belief in me to be the guy to lean on.”
“There is no other staff that I would want to have coaching me,” Baker continued. “They are all very good at what they do. They are meticulous and push us to be our best.”
“Tarek has been with us since the inception of the program,” commented Williams on his new captain. “He is a guy that is a proven winner I truly feel his dedication to be the best hockey player and lead by example will make him a great captain. He also does a fantastic job working with our younger players, pulling them along with him to push themselves to be better.”
Baker was brought on around Christmas break to join the Thunder leaders Slaker, Butrus Ghafari, and Blake Gober as an alternate captain. After the transition, the Thunder took off and clinched their first playoff berth in team history.
“I learned a lot this year. You can’t take days off. You need to be one of those guys that people look to and see that you are a respectable guy on and off the ice,” said Baker after his half season with an ‘A’ on his jersey. “People will model what you do. If they see good things they will know that’s what is expected and follow that suit, but if you aren’t they will think they can get away with it. It’s about being a good character person on and off the ice.”
Coach Williams went on to talk about his leadership qualities. “What Tarek brings is a complete package both on and off the ice. His leadership and has respect in the locker room are because of his compete level. He wears his heart on his sleeve, battles, and does whatever he can to win hockey games. Definitely a guy that myself and our staff felt is the right guy to lead our program going into year three.”
Being captain is nothing new to the 5-foot-10 forward. During his days in midget hockey with the Omaha AAA Hockey Club, Baker served as captain in his final season. The Thunder now look for the future Wisconsin Badger to bring the same qualities to Bloomington.
“Anyone who has met Tarek knows that he is a genuine person on top of being a great player,” said Williams explaining his efforts off the ice as a big factor into his captainship. “He is always volunteering for community events and if we need someone to go out for a community service project. He’s always one of the first guys at the rink and one of the last to leave.”
As an extension of the coaching staff into the locker room, Baker is ready to take on the challenge of returning to the Clark Cup Playoffs with his team and exceeding the team’s finish from last year.
“For me it starts right now. We didn’t get to where we wanted last year. Starting with Main Camp, the season starts on Wednesday and it begins the march for us to the Clark Cup.”
Bloomington’s new face of the program will skate in West Dundee at Futures Camp this weekend as the Thunder look to narrow the field toward their training camp invites, and eventually their 2016-17 roster.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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