March 22, 2012 in Sports

Chiefs defenseman Baldwin always a good bet

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Corbin Baldwin, right, keeps Seattle’s Justin Hickman at bay in tussle for puck earlier this season.
(Full-size photo)

A couple of months back, Darren Kramer laid down a bet for Corbin Baldwin with the most generous of odds at 1 million-to-1.

But sometimes in basketball you can’t buy a bucket, and sometimes in hockey you can’t take a penny and turn it into a quick $10,000 from your team captain.

Not unless you can score.

“Yeah, yeah – I didn’t score. But he should’ve paid me anyway,” the Spokane Chiefs defenseman said. “That would have been really nice.”

At least Baldwin is cashing in on other opportunities as one of Spokane’s three over-age players this season.

While the three-year Chiefs veteran is the kind of player that can easily go unnoticed by fans – his points are infrequent, and as his game has matured over the last few seasons he doesn’t drop the gloves every chance he gets – he’s exactly the kind of player Spokane needs on the blue line.

He blocks shots. He sacrifices his body. He finishes checks. He competes. And he frustrates his opponents – like the Kelowna Rockets’ world-class forward, Brett Bulmer, in a game earlier this month.

“He threw him completely off his game just with how hard he played him. (Corbin’s) compete level is what sets him apart,” Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz said. “He’s hard to play against and he’s going to be such a key component for us in the playoffs because he’s big, strong and tenacious. He does all the little things he needs to do to give our team a chance to win. That’s something he’s matured into.”

“He even plays that way in practice,” Speltz added. “In fact, our coaches have to be careful he doesn’t go too hard in practice and get injured.”

That’s why the Chiefs’ coaching staff presented the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native with the inaug- ural Coaches Award prior to Spokane’s final home game of the Western Hockey League regular season as the Chiefs’ unsung hero on the ice.

“It was about recognizing the most valuable player that plays with least recognition,” Speltz said. “A lot of nights this season he’s been our best player, but it’s usually a guy with the most goals or points, or a goaltender that makes a lot of saves that night that gets noticed.”

At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, it’s hard not to notice Baldwin.

This season he’s had bigger skates to fill after playing his first two seasons behind several talented former Chiefs defensemen, such as Jared Cowen – a first-round NHL draft pick who is now a rookie for the Ottawa Senators.

Baldwin has done so admirably, doubling his career total from last season in goals (six) and finishing the regular season with the 12th-highest plus-minus mark (plus-35) in the WHL.

“(Players like Cowen) set the bar high for me,” Baldwin said. “I’ve tried to take little bits of the guys (who came before) me and apply them to my game. It’s a more important role for me this year and I think I’ve been a bigger part of the team.”

He’s also been a blueliner that the Chiefs can bet on.

Ice chips

Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur and Vancouver coach Don Hay have a combined 1,073 wins. Hay, who has won three Memorial Cups, is second on the all-time WHL list with 556 wins, while Nachbaur has 517 and is sixth on the list. Nachbaur has been named WHL Coach of the Year two of the last four years (2008 with Tri-City and 2011 with Spokane) and Hay won the award in 2009. …This year’s first-round playoff series between the Giants and the Chiefs marks the third time since 2008 that the teams have met in postseason play.

FridaySpokane at Vancouver, 7:30 p.m.
SaturdaySpokane at Vancouver, 7
TuesdayVancouver at Spokane, 7
WednesdayVancouver at Spokane, 7
March 30*Spokane at Vancouver, 7:30
April 1*Vancouver at Spokane, 6
April 4*Spokane at Vancouver, 7

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