South Xtra: Baldwin listens, learns from young coach

HIGH SCHOOL HOCKEY

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Former Baldwin hockey player Joe Powell decided to come on as an assistant coach at his alma mater last season so he would have the opportunity to coach his younger brother, Jesse, during his senior season.

"It was really cool," Joe Powell said. "It was the reason I decided to coach. We were able to make memories."

This season, Jesse is no longer on the team and Joe is no longer an assistant coach for the Highlanders.

He has since been elevated to head coach.

Kevin Becker stepped down as coach after last season and recommended Joe Powell to the program's board of directors. Powell was hired and has Baldwin off to a 5-2 start this season.

"He has us a lot more disciplined," senior captain Jake Naylor said. "Last season, there wasn't much control of practice or the locker room."

Despite going 15-4-1 and advancing to the semifinals of the Open Division's Nailers Cup, Baldwin had a severe problem with penalties last season. The team racked up 543 penalty minutes in 20 regular-season games (27 per game), which was 143 more minutes than any other team in the classification.

Through Monday night's games, Baldwin was the fourth-least penalized team in the Open Division this season with 72 penalty minutes.

Naylor thinks the team has responded to Powell's coaching, mostly because he was in the players' shoes not too long ago.

"He played for Baldwin; he played for us," Naylor said. "We listen to him more than we listened to anyone in the past."

The Highlanders also graduated their two most penalized players from last season, Dallas Becker and Jake Campbell.

Even when the Highlanders have been penalized this season, it hasn't hurt the team. It took until the third period of the sixth game of the season for Baldwin to allow a power-play goal. With that type of play in front of him, goaltender Ryan Beerman allowed just 11 goals in his first five starts, notching two shutouts.

Offensively, Baldwin has been led by a pair of sophomores, Brian Dee and Dakota Becker.

Dee leads the team with 19 points after scoring 22 points last season as a freshman. He is coming off a three-goal, five-point performance Monday in Baldwin's 12-2 win against Frazier.

Becker, the son of Kevin Becker and brother of Dallas, was the leading returning scorer after netting 15 goals and notching 19 assists as a freshman last season. This year, Becker is tied with Dee for the team lead in goals with nine and has 16 points. He has three games where he has scored at least two goals.

Becker and Dee are part of a youth movement for the Highlanders, who have just four seniors and two juniors on their roster.

"Some teams may view our youth as a disadvantage, but I think the young enthusiasm we have helps us," Powell said.

Baldwin will take the ice tonight in a matchup against Ringgold, but the Highlanders also have their eye on their Jan. 7 game against Indiana. The game will be played outdoors at the Penguins Pond.

Indiana beat Baldwin three times last season, including in the Nailers Cup semifinals.

"We have the game against Indiana circled on our calendar," Powell said.

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