In the hockey world, toughness has a specific connotation. The image of a hockey tough guy is typically a bigger, stronger player who is an eager fighter and whose primary role is to intimidate the opposition. In the Tri-City Herald's annual Best of the West poll, the "Toughest Player" category is code for best fighter.
Then there's Kohl Bauml tough.
Bauml won't be getting any votes as the Western Conference's toughest player. Indeed, he's the polar opposite of the hockey tough guy stereotype. Generously listed at 5-foot-9, Bauml is anything but physically imposing, and he's often the smallest player on the ice. In 148 games with the Everett Silvertips over the past three seasons, he's amassed a paltry 46 penalty minutes. He's never had a fighting major penalty.
But in his own way, Bauml is the epitome of what toughness is all about.
"I'm not a guy who's looking to pick scraps," Bauml said. "That's not necessarily my game. My tough is just trying not to miss shifts. If it's a little bump or bruise, it's a long way from the heart."
Bauml, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, had the type of weekend that would have caused most players to capitulate. Everett was playing three games in three nights, and the center who's in his 19-year-old season was already dealing with sore and swollen cheeks from what was originally believed to be impacted wisdom teeth, but was later discovered to be a form of the mumps. Then during last Saturday's game against Kamloops he was flattened by a hit from Blazers defenseman Ryan Rehill, a hit that resulted in a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct. Finally, on Sunday against Swift Current, he was crunched into the boards and came away holding his arm as he labored to the bench.
The grand total of time Bauml missed because of these issues? One shift against Swift Current.
"(Against Kamloops) it was one of those hits where he's down and maybe concussed and maybe won't be able to play for a month," Everett coach Kevin Constantine recalled. "Then a minute later the trainer is back and saying Bauml is OK, he can play, and you're like, 'Really? Wow!' That seems to be his M.O. He's small, but he's tough as nails, and he doesn't play with any fear."
Said Bauml: "It was one of the rougher weekends I've had in a long time. But it's almost all gone now. I feel pretty good, considering the weekend I had and all the bumps and bruises."
This isn't the first instance of Bauml toughing it out during his career with the Tips. His rookie season he spent much of the season playing with a separated shoulder, an injury that required offseason surgery. But none of it seems to slow Bauml down or affect the way he plays.
"There's two types of tough," Constantine said. "There's defensive tough and there's offensive tough. Defensive tough is hitting and blocking shots and in the occasional fighter. But there's a courage to offense that people underappreciate. To score goals you have to go to hard areas like the front of the net, where you're probably going to get knocked down or cross checked. You have to go into a corner and know a guy is bearing down on you and trying to check you into the boards. I think Bauml's offensive toughness is as tough as there is on our team. He has no fear of going into a corner and maybe taking a bit of a bump."
What makes Bauml's toughness all the more remarkable is his small stature. Bauml is listed at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, so just about every physical encounter he has on the ice is with someone who is bigger -- Kamloops Rehill, for instance, who steamrolled Bauml last week, is listed on the roster at 6-feet, 3-inches and 213 pounds. But Bauml never shows any sign of deferring to the bigger players.
"It's very remarkable," Constantine said. "I call it the law of gross tonnage. If a car runs into a semi, the car loses all the time. (Bauml) doesn't have the law of gross tonnage on his side. He's lighter and smaller, so the only thing that can make up for that is heart and toughness. He has that, so he can play a big man's game as a small player."
So where does Bauml's toughness come from?
"I don't know," Bauml responded. "It's probably a bit of my dad coming out in me. He's always saying that if it's still attached, you can play. My mom probably doesn't like it because, being in the health industry (as a physical therapist) she wants to make sure everything is perfect before I'm going.
"But it's not really my thing to be sitting out if I can be out there playing."
And while doing so, Bauml is proving that in hockey, there's more than one definition of tough.
Everett forwards Jujhar Khaira and Patrick Bajkov, who sat out games last weekend because of injury, remain on the injury report. Khaira is listed as week-to-week with a lingering upper-body injury and won't play in this weekend's games, tonight at Vancouver and Saturday at Kamloops. Bajkov is listed as day-to-day because of a concussion suffered in last Friday's game at Spokane. Bajkov is fully recovered, but won't complete the concussion protocol until Saturday, and therefore won't play tonight. Bajkov is going to have to wait a little longer for his first career WHL goal. The 16-year-old was credited with his first goal in last Friday's 4-2 loss at Spokane. However, after reviewing the video the goal was taken away. The goal was credited to fellow 16-year-old Matt Fonteyne, making it's Fonteyne's first career WHL goal.
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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