Baker Eager to Live out Childhood Dream with Badgers
Growing up less than 30 minutes from the Kohl Center, Tarek Baker has been going to Wisconsin home games his whole life. Come next October, the Sioux City Musketeers forward will be lacing up the skates and donning the Badger uniform on that same ice surface.
“Being a Wisconsin kid and going to games growing up, you understand what Badger hockey is,” Baker said.
Adding to his excitement is the optimism surrounding the program under the new coaching staff, led by Tony Granato and assistant coaches Don Granato and Mark Osiecki.
“They all played for the Badgers so they know what Badger hockey is. They have great coaching pedigrees. They’re getting the best out of the program,” said Baker, who committed to Wisconsin when Mike Eaves was still the coach.
Baker tries not to think too far ahead as he and his teammates in Sioux City still have unfinished business. The Musketeers are tied 1-1 in their USHL Clark Cup Western Conference Finals against Waterloo.
Baker was a late addition to the Musketeers, by way of a trade that sent him from Bloomington to Sioux City. In addition to being sent to a playoff-bound team, he also was able to participate in the World Junior A Challenge over Christmas break.
“It’s been a solid year. [Head coach] Jay [Varady] wanted to take a chance on me and I’m glad he did,” said Baker.
The transition from Bloomington to Sioux City helped Baker learn to slow the game down. While his regular-season numbers weren’t gaudy, he has a goal and five assists in five playoff games.
“I’m a player who likes to play full speed all the time. It helps me out to not go full speed. I can slow the game down and possess the puck more,” Baker said.
The Verona, Wis., native, who has spent the past three years in the USHL, will matriculate to Wisconsin in the fall.
“Being able to play three years gets your body ready for college. You’re playing against older guys, instead of going in straight from high school,” said Baker.
Baker’s speed, grit and ability to create offense in transition should make him a fan favorite in Madison. Known as a leader throughout his midget and junior career should help him fit right in with his new teammates.
“I’m a guy that likes to play with a lot of pace," Baker said. "I like to take pucks wide and take it to the net. I like to be in the dirty areas. I like to do things that some guys aren’t willing to do and throw the body around when it’s needed."
The 5-foot-10 Baker tries to emulate Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, another smaller forward.
“He plays fast but still has skill to his game. He’s willing to go into dirty areas,” said Baker.
If his current development trajectory is any indication, he could very well be a key four-year contributor who makes improvement each season at Wisconsin.