Madison West junior Drake Baldwin, the state’s leading goal scorer in boys hockey, developed his game as a youth on the basement floor at home — sliding the puck on the concrete and firing shots at a net set up against a wall.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Baldwin — who possesses one of the hardest shots in the Big Eight Conference — definitely left his mark while trying to perfect finding the back of the net.
“It was a cement wall, so it didn’t do much (damage),” Baldwin said. “There were probably little black marks everywhere on the wall.”
From his first experience playing hockey at age 5 with a neighbor friend, and initial skating lessons at Madison Ice Arena when he was 6, Baldwin always has loved the challenge hockey presents.
Baldwin’s 43 goals top the state (ahead of Dylan Brown of the Reedsburg co-op and Madison Edgewood’s Carter Hottmann). His 69 total points rank second to Brown, the state assist leader.
“Part of it is his ability to shoot and he gets after the puck — he has a reach,” Regents coach Steve Libert said. “I don’t think I can count how many poke-check goals he has. I think he has nine short-handed goals, and seven of those are from stealing the puck.
“He has a relentless attitude on the back-check. … Drake is really good pressuring the puck from behind and stealing the puck. That just restarts our offense before the other team even gets in our end.”
Baldwin — a center whose high-scoring line includes senior wingers Sam Loving and Colin Pulkrabek — said he couldn’t have envisioned such scoring production.
“(Loving and Pulkrabek) are able to bury (the puck),” Baldwin said. “When I am able to find them, they put it in the back of the net. I just take as much pride in assists as well as goals.”
The left-handed swinging Baldwin scored a personal-best six goals against Oregon on Jan. 19, collected five assists against Sun Prairie on Jan. 6 and had three goals and two assists in games against Madison Memorial on Jan. 20 and Madison La Follette/Madison East on Jan. 30.
About the scoring outburst against Oregon, Baldwin said: “I think I had three goals in the first seven minutes. Everything was going in for me.”
Baldwin had 28 goals and 10 assists as a freshman, but his totals dipped to 13 goals and seven assists as a sophomore. He only played 14 games last year, missing the first part of the season when he sustained a cut thigh muscle from a skate during the preseason.
Libert said Baldwin’s athletic ability permits him to score in various ways and from awkward positions.
“You will hear people say Aaron Rodgers can throw off different platforms,” Libert said. “Drake can shoot off different platforms. With him it isn’t like, ‘I need to be set up and I need four strides to rip my shot.’ ”
Baldwin also is a standout catcher and left-handed hitter for the school’s baseball program. Baldwin, who hopes to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team one day, orally committed in August to play baseball at NCAA Division I Missouri State. Baldwin said he wanted to complete high school at West with his friends, instead of possibly leaving for junior hockey, and to have his college destination determined.
“This year has been amazing,” Baldwin said. “It has been a lot of fun.”
Baldwin believes West (16-6-2), led by goaltender Adam Buencamino during a 3-2 victory over the Kettle Moraine co-op in its regular-season finale Tuesday night, has exceeded expectations.
“Coming in, I feel like a lot of people doubted us,” said Baldwin, who had an assist Tuesday. “We have proved them wrong.”
The fourth-seeded Regents, who finished third in the Big Eight, will face fifth-seeded Madison Memorial in their WIAA playoff opener at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 at Madison Ice Arena. West is 2-0-1 against Memorial this season.
“No matter what, it’s been a fun team all year,” Libert said. “We have a few more building blocks we need to add as we hit the playoffs here. We have to keep polishing up our power play and do a little penalty-kill work, but it is coming together at the right time.”
Most of the West and Memorial players grew up together in youth hockey and their locker rooms are next to each other at Madison Ice Arena.
“Everyone on our team has played with a Memorial kid at some time or another,” Baldwin said. “It’s a big rivalry, for sure.”
Said Libert: “Hockey always has had that tradition. You knock each other’s heads off on the ice and then when you come off, you ask, `How’s it going?’ You are buddies off the ice.”