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    July 21, 2022 Kenmore, Ontario RSS |

    Former Liberty University ACHA Division I men’s hockey player Cam Bakker recently signed a contract extension with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, an affiliate of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and the AHL’s Rockford (Ill.) IceHogs. The Fuel plays in the 6,200-seat Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, where it will open the 2022-23 season on Oct. 21.

    Bakker, 29, a 6-foot, 170-pound defenseman, contributed four assists in 11 games with the Fuel this past March after being traded from the eventual ECHL Kelly Cup champion Florida Everblades.

    “I had a fantastic experience,” Bakker said of his season with the Everblades, despite tearing the meniscus in his right knee in early December and missing the next two months. “It was an older, veteran team, so I learned a lot from some of the older guys. Plus, it was a great place to live. I’m not going to lie, Florida in December is a lot better than Ontario in December.”

    Bakker, who spends his summers on his family’s dairy farm in Kenmore, Ontario, southeast of Ottawa, adjusted quickly to life in Indianapolis this past spring.

    Bakker looks to take more of a leadership role with the Fuel this fall.

    “It’s a bigger city, but it’s still got a very rural-type agriculture feel to it, which is what I’ve grown up with all my life,” he said. “It was a really cool experience. The people and fans and organization are great, and it is a super city to play hockey in. Between Indy and the other teams in the division, our fan bases are very loyal, and we get a good crowd no matter the day of the week.”

    He gave the Fuel some added fire on the back line to help them make a push toward the playoffs before being sidelined for the final few games by a broken index finger on his right hand. That injury occurred the day before he was joined by former Flames forward Quinn Ryan, who had started his first professional season with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies.

    “When I was traded (to Indy), they were 12 points out of the last playoff spot and coming down the stretch ended up being just three points out,” Bakker said. “But it was good to see that the team didn’t quit towards the end of the year. It shows a lot of character and a lot of belief in the coach and the organization to play that way, in or out of the playoffs, to keep going and keep it exciting.”

    He recalls the teams he played on at Liberty competing that way, fueled by the Flames’ passionate fan base.

    “I definitely still remember one of my first weekends down at Liberty in 2011, being a small-town kid going (into the LaHaye Ice Center) and it’s crazy how the fans can get you going when maybe you’re not feeling your best or getting a little down,” Bakker said. “Being at Liberty definitely prepared me for some of these bigger crowds and when things aren’t going your way, fans give you that extra life to stay in the game and keep pushing.”

    Bakker battles along the boards with an ECHL rival for possession of the puck.

    Fully recovered from his knee and finger injuries, Bakker hopes to have a greater presence on the Fuel’s back line this season and be a positive mentor to newer players on the team.

    “I will have mostly a defensive role, on the penalty kill and some of those end zone situations that need to be taken care of,” he said. “I will look to take a leadership role for some of the younger guys, especially when it gets to the middle of the season, keeping everyone upbeat because it makes it a lot easier when you love coming to the rink and being with the guys.”

    From his farming experience, including during a two-year break from hockey after graduating from Liberty with a B.S. in Exercise Science in 2015, Bakker gained a strong work ethic. He tries to lead by example, with spiritual integrity, as he has for his siblings who have worked alongside him on the farm for most of his life.

    “A lot of people see the positivity and kind of how my story has gone so far in my hockey career,” said Bakker, who launched his professional career with the Federal Hockey League’s (FHL) Cornwall (Ontario) Nationals and Southern Professional Hockey League’s (SPHL) Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs in 2017-18 before going on to play for the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in 2018-19 and Brampton Beast in 2019-2020 and helping the Pensacola (Fla.) Ice Flyers win an SPHL Championship in 2020-21. “They look at my career and look at me as a person and know there’s definitely a force driving me to be who I am.”

    Over the years, he has shown kindness to teammates in need, building relationships and leading others closer to Christ.

    “I absolutely love the guys (at Indy), and a lot of them respect my opinion,” Bakker said. “It’s a younger team, so I feel like I’m kind of the grandfather on the back end, but if I can teach them something out of the defensive zone, or help them out off the ice, I will. It’s a good vibe in the locker room, and we all get along.”

    Bakker (back center) says he wouldn’t trade the values and work ethic he gained on his family’s dairy farm for the world. (Submitted photo)

    He said Indy Fuel Head Coach Duncan Dalmao, who he also played for at Brampton, has inspired him to be more personal and intentional in fostering that positive team culture.

    “He does a great job of being available for the players if they have a problem with practice, a teammate, or housing,” Bakker said. “He’s been a prime example, if someone’s in trouble, to talk to them and finding a solution and that’s really carried over to a lot of the players. Most of us will do anything for anyone on the team, on or off the ice. I try to follow his lead.”

    Dalmao, a former ECHL Defenseman of the Year with the Roanoke Express, has also been influential in Bakker’s development as a player.

    “I’ve learned a lot from him off the ice about the league and almost twice as much on the ice as well,” Bakker said.

    The Flames’ coaching staff made at least as positive impact on him, especially as he transitioned from a forward to defenseman at the start of his freshman season. He scored 28 goals and distributed 57 assists while accruing 263 penalty minutes in 139 games over four seasons at Liberty.

    Former Flames defensemen and current Club Sports Hall of Fame members Jeff Lowes and Dave Semenyna, Liberty’s all-time leading scorer, were Bakker’s defensive coaches and primary mentors as a player his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively.

    Bakker was a four-year defenseman at Liberty. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

    “(Lowes) was very good about teaching me the ins and outs of playing defense and (Semenyna) taught me a lot more about the offensive aspect, which was good,” Bakker said. “My last two years at Liberty, (Associate Head Coach Jeff) Boettger (a former ECHL standout) was there and he was fantastic with the defensemen.”

    Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy has invited Bakker to return to Liberty as he prepares for the Indy Fuel’s training camp in early October.

    “Kirk has been great and has always been open to having me work out with the team and getting myself in condition with (Director of Strength & Conditioning) Chris Kerr and (Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine) Angie Witt,” Bakker said. “It’s a real blessing that Liberty would offer me to do that. Last year was the first year I made it back down on my way to Florida, and I popped into the rink and Kirk invited me out to skate with the lads. I thought I was in shape going into training camp and I did one practice …” and found out that he wasn’t.

    He hopes to be in peak condition when his sixth professional season gets under way in three months.

    “I’m looking forward to a fresh start, a new year,” said Bakker, who believes he still has a shot of advancing to the AHL ranks. “Hopefully, most of my bigger injuries behind me now and I can focus on contributing again.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer