Although it was a shorter off-season than usual, that didn’t make it any easier.
Heading into his first season of Canadian college hockey and with the regular season a month away, Sault Ste. Marie’s Camaryn Baber is excited to get started.
“I miss the rink,” Baber said. “I miss playing, and even watching, whether it’s the NHL or the OHL games, it’s crazy how quick you can miss it.”
When things get underway, Baber will be suiting up for the University of New Brunswick Reds after committing to the school earlier this summer.
The commitment comes after a four-year Ontario Hockey League career that began with the Saginaw Spirit before finishing his final season in 2021-22 with the London Knights.
Baber called playing with the Knights “a really good way to end my OHL career.”
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Baber said of the opportunity to play with the Knights. “I learned a lot going into a new organization and seeing things a different way. London was awesome. They treated me unbelievable. It was a great place to be and a great place to play.”
Playing with a Knights organization that has built a reputation on player development, Baber said he learned a lot from a Knights coaching staff that includes head coach Dale Hunter and assistant coaches Rick Steadman and Dylan Hunter.
“I learned so much from those guys,” Baber said. “Steady and Dylie were awesome with all the guys and Dale, I just learned so much from him hearing his insight on things and how he sees the game.”
Baber said his defensive game took another step while playing in London.
Baber added that playing in Saginaw for three full seasons and parts of two others was “special.”
“I had no idea what to expect going there and it was a lot different for sure,” Baber said. “Moving from Canada to Michigan, the schooling was different, but it definitely helped me grow up.”
Baber added that the first year being away from home wasn’t easy, but it helped him prepare for the move east this year.
“I struggled being away from home,” Baber said. “If I didn’t go through that, I wouldn’t have been able to make a decision like this.”
With that, his OHL experience is something he would never trade.
“It was memories I’ll never forget,” Baber said. “I entered the league as a young kid who never left home and always wanted to be home. Then I feel like leaving home really showed me who I wanted to be and helped make me who I am.”
Baber said he learned how to adapt during his time in Saginaw and London.
“I learned how to adapt on the fly just because of how fast the games were,” Baber said. “Not being the top skilled guy in the league, you have to find ways to chip in and help out in any way possible.”
Baber’s OHL career began with 11 games in Saginaw during the 2017-18 season before joining the team full time the following season.
Prior to the OHL trade deadline in January, Baber was traded by Saginaw to the Knights.
At the time of the deal, Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill said making the deal was “a very tough day on myself and the organization obviously on the human element side of it.”
“It was about giving Cam, who has been an unbelievable player and person here for us for the last five years, a chance to win a championship,” Drinkill also said.
Baber is among a handful of recent OHL grads who will be joining UNB this season, which includes another Sault native in former Soo Greyhounds forward Cole MacKay.
The decision to join UNB was one that wasn’t taken lightly, but it came down to a couple of factors for Baber.
“More than anything, it was just the winning mentality and wanting to continue on and get better,” Baber said of choosing UNB. “I wanted to continue and play, and I wanted to win, so that really helped a lot.”
Baber said he didn’t know a lot about UNB prior to beginning his final year in the OHL.
“I did a lot of research on the school aspect of places,” Baber said, adding that he spoke with some former OHL players as part of it, including former Saginaw teammate Brady Gilmour, who is already playing at UNB, and Sault product Owen Headrick, who played on the east coast with the University of Prince Edward Island.
As part of that research, the UNB culture stood out for the 21-year-old Sault product.
“The culture is unbelievable,” Baber said. “Everybody treats everybody else how they’re supposed to be treated. It’s heartwarming walking into the rink every day. They’re good people.”
Baber said ending up at the same school with MacKay happened by chance.
“When it happened and then we reached out to each other and we got the news, it was pretty cool,” Baber said.
Settled in ahead of the new school year and hockey season, Baber said the pair made the drive east together, leaving Saturday and arriving in New Brunswick on Sunday after an overnight stop in Quebec City.
“I couldn’t imagine doing it alone,” Baber said of the trip.
In addition to Baber and MacKey, the UNB commitment list this summer includes Cody Morgan, who was a teammate of Baber with London and Kitchener Rangers forward Mike Petizian.
The familiarity with his new teammates, which includes a handful of former OHL players already with the team, is a motivating one.
“It’s super exciting,” Baber said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air. They’re on the same page as me, wanting to win and wanting to work hard.”