BAUMAN TURNING HEADS EARLY FOR WILDOct 31, 2019
By Tom Witosky
When Kyle Bauman learned the Iowa Wild wanted to offer him an AHL contract this summer, he knew immediately he would sign.
“I was kind of waiting around, hoping for a call and ended up getting a text from my agent saying Iowa wanted to sign me,” the former Ontario Reign center said. “I knew I was going to sign without any hesitation. None at all.”
Bauman’s decision – partially the result of playing with former Wild forward Gerry Fitzgerald and his brothers at Bemidji State and having played in Des Moines last season with the Reign – already has had a surprising impact on the club.
“He has gone from getting minutes on the third line as a result of injuries to other players to killing penalties and taking big face-offs when killing penalties and on power plays,” Head Coach Tim Army said. “I wouldn’t really call it a surprise, but he has had an impact we didn’t quite know he was capable of having on the team.”
Sam Anas, who recently set the club’s career scoring record with a goal assisted by Bauman, can be counted among the staff and players impressed by the center on his line.
“He's probably the fastest kid I ever played with,” Anas said. “You can't really tell how fast he is until he gets the puck and he just blows by a defenseman. He's good at driving through the middle and creating space, which is what you like.”
That kind of surprise has marked much of Bauman’s hockey career almost from the beginning.
Born in Apopka, FL, the 24-year-old Iowa Wild center began his hockey career, much like Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker -- on cement.
“I grew up rollerblading,” Bauman said, adding he was about five-years-old at the time. “My dad had rollerblades and he taught me. Then I played in an outdoor roller hockey league.”
He recalled it wasn’t until a friend took him to an ice rink a few years later that he began ice skating and developing hockey skills.
“After I tried it out, I ended up getting into a league and it kind of took off from there,” Bauman said. “To this day, I kind of live at the rink and I enjoy working out and playing hockey. All my friends are at the rink.”
At about that same time, Bauman became a huge Tampa Bay Lightning fan, particularly of star forwards Martin St. Louis and center Vincent Lecavalier, who led the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004 over Calgary.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound center said watching St. Louis gave him hope that he might have a future playing hockey.
“He was a smaller guy. And I loved watching him and Lecavalier win the Cup,” he said. “That was awesome.”
In his climb up the ladder, Bauman said he has even surprised himself to a degree. After four seasons in junior hockey, Bauman achieved what he thought would be his chief goal as a hockey player – a college scholarship.
Air Force, Alabama-Huntsville and Bemidji State made scholarship offers and Bauman jumped at the chance to play in the WCHA while majoring in business.
“My only goal was to play college hockey,” Bauman said. “That was it. The dream was to play college hockey even through my freshman and sophomore years. I don't even think I thought about pro hockey.”
During his senior season, Bauman attracted attention from professional scouts by leading the Beavers men hockey team in points with nine goals and 21 assists in 38 games.
After a year with Ontario, Bauman was looking for an AHL contract. What he didn’t know was that Minnesota scouts had been talking about signing him to a contract to add depth to the Iowa club.
“We signed him late, but we had targeted him fairly early in the process,”
Army said. “There was some good back and forth discussion with him and his representative, but they were able to lock him in.”
Army said initial plans out of training camp was to send Bauman down to the ECHL because of what appeared to be a log jam at center. The Wild had also signed centers Gabriel Dumont, Luke Johnson and brought back Mitch McLain, and were also expecting to get Nico Sturm from Minnesota for at least part of Iowa’s early season.
With that kind of talent, the staff reasoned Bauman would be available to be called up but also needed to play to stay sharp once changes began.
“We thought that we would start the year with Dumont, Johnson, and very possibly, Sturm and McLain. That was how we were going and he was sort of the fifth center,” Army said.
But Bauman essentially made the club without question with a strong training camp in Minnesota and in Iowa.
“We were really excited about what we saw,” Army said. “We saw a speed element and a compete element that I didn’t quite know. He played that much inside the game.”
His other major asset, Army said, was that “he was more aware defensively than I thought he was going to be.”
As it turned out, Bauman’s strong showing in camp saved the Wild the price of an airplane ticket back from Allen when Luke Johnson sustained a lower-body injury in the final practice before the Wild’s season opener against Rockford.
Johnson has yet to play a game, but Bauman’s centering the Wild’s third line between the veteran Anas and Colton Beck has been a big addition to the club’s early success.
“They've been outstanding,” Army said. “They have good chemistry together and their skills and personalities really fit together well.”
Beck agreed, pointing out that Bauman’s speed matches well with both forwards.
“What sticks out with him is his speed,” Beck said. “He flies around the ice and he's a hard worker on the forecheck. He's definitely brought a dynamic to our line.”
Anas added what was remarkable was the line jelled almost from the moment they hit the ice in the first game.
“We hadn't even practiced together before that first weekend,” Anas said. “But it worked out well because we are creating a lot of energy and that is what makes us effective.”
If Bauman can keep up his improvement, he may discover another surprise down the road.
“It's a possibility as long as I keep playing well that good things will happen,” Bauman said. “I didn't even think about being a pro. It’s a dream to play in the NHL, but you don’t know what may happen. It’s just a lot of fun now.”