Baillargeon’s talent on the ice no mystery

By Tom Schreier

Robbie Baillargeon - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Ottawa Senators prospect Robbie Baillargeon has been nearly a point-per-game player since being dealt from the Indiana Ice to the Omaha Lancers (courtesy of Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Robbie Baillargeon is hockey’s “Mystery Man”. If he were a president, he would be Woodrow Wilson. If he were the subject of a novel, Kristen Ashley would write it. If he were a superhero, he would team up with Mr. Furious, The Shoveler and The Blue Raja.

So naturally when the Indiana Ice asked their players to get on Twitter as a team bonding experience, Baillargeon's teammates knew exactly what his Twitter handle should be. Baillargeon was sitting with his Indiana Ice teammates at Tomo, an Asian restaurant near the team’s practice facility in Indianapolis, when he became MysteryMan93.

The Twitter handle

Tyler Pham, Indiana Ice teammate: As far as his Twitter handle goes, we basically came up with it last year when we all met each other for the first time. The first couple of months he was really shy, didn’t really open up to us—he was obviously a good guy and was sick at hockey, but we would call him the Mystery Man because nobody knew what was going on. He agreed with it, he laughed about it. We had some other ideas like Mysterio or something funny, but he stuck with Mystery Man.

Joe Fiala, Indiana Ice teammate: Last year, for the first few months, we never really knew what he was up to or what he was doing. He was always so sneaky about who he was hanging out with or what he was even thinking. Some of us started calling him the Mystery Man and then he started it as his Twitter [name] and he’s always been a mystery, he’s always been sneaky.

Drew Smolcynski, Indiana Ice roommate: When we first started rooming together he was definitely on the quiet side, but when he comes out of his shell he’s a great guy and a funny guy. I can definitely see that it takes him a little to get settled and get comfortable with that.

Robbie Baillargeon: At the beginning of the year when I go to new places, I seem like a pretty quiet kid, kinda shy. When you get [to know me] I’m totally the opposite, pretty much, and that’s why I caught them off guard with my personality

Fiala: At first he didn’t really talk much and did his own thing, but eventually [we found out] he’s a great guy and we all started hanging with him, but he didn’t tell us everything and we found out through different people.

Baillargeon would go missing for a period of time every now and then. Teammates openly wonder what he was up to, only to find out that he was on his computer or out trying to pick up girls.

Fiala: If he talks to a certain girl and we find out later, we’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what you were doing, you were talking to her,’ or something like that. He’s really sneaky—he’s just really funny, but it took us a while to find out the things he does.

Pham: It was exactly what Joe said, we’d all be hanging out and be like, ‘Wait? Where’s Bally at?’ and we’d text him and he’d finally meet back up with us and he’d be like, ‘Yeah, I was just hanging out with this girl,’ and we’d be like, ‘What?’ We had no idea.

On the move

Baillargeon has moved frequently. He had left his hometown of Enfield, CT, located on the border of Massachusetts, to go to Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, MA—a one-hour and 45-minute drive away—and spent two years there before joining the Ice for the 2011-12 season. After spending the entire year in Indianapolis, he was traded to the Omaha Lancers during Christmas Break of this year.

Baillargeon: After high school I wanted to play prep school. I talked to the coaches there and it was a good spot for me so it was an easy move.

My prep school coach (Robert Gagnon), himself as a player, was really skilled and he saw the ability for me to do that and just during practice worked with me a lot to give me tips and stuff. He played at [University of New Hampshire] and he taught me the things he learned at UNH. I still use certain things he taught me today.

Although he says that Gagnon supported his decision to play junior hockey, Baillargeon waited on his decision and arrived in Indianapolis later than many of the other players.

Pham: If you’re in high school, you’re either doing it online or going to Cathedral. He actually showed up a little late, he didn’t even make the school orientation. He showed up two weeks into school so it was a little tougher on him than, say, me and [Ian] Spencer, who showed up before.

He was in between coming here and going back to Cushing, but he decided to come here.

Baillargeon: I would say pretty much after my second year of prep school I talked to [former Ice Head Coach and General Manager Kyle] Wallack, who was our coach last year and he just told me I had a really good year at prep school and it’s time to move on and challenge myself. I talked to a couple other people as well and they said it’s a great move and I agree with them. The league is unbelievable and it definitely prepares you for college at the highest level.

Even though the Ice were 19 games above .500 and expected to be a top seed in the USHL playoffs, Wallack was fired with two regular season games remaining due to what Ice owner Paul Skjodt called “team unrest.” Operations Director Ron Gay acted as the interim head coach before Jeff Brown took over the position halfway through this season.

Ron Gay, former Indiana Ice head coach: It looked for scouts that he was willing to take that step and come out and compete and try to move on. It was a big year for him last year and, of course, being able to play with some of the guys we had last year.

Pham: I’d say it was definitely a good month before he was introducing himself and talking to people. He was definitely a mystery man in class, especially the first few weeks of school, we didn’t know anybody and he and the other three kids that went there, he kind of introduced himself, but he was a mystery man in school for sure.

Fiala: As he got used to the league and he got more comfortable, then yeah, he definitely started to get a lot better and just started to be the player he is now. He gets a lot of points, he’s very offensive and has great vision and really good hands and he puts them all together and makes things happen.

Baillargeon: One person that I watched last year in the playoffs was Derek Stepan of the Rangers. I feel like we play a similar game and we both move the puck really well and he can score, too. Just that style of play, generating a lot of offense.

Baillargeon had a strong 2011-12 campaign, finishing the season with 14 goals and 48 points in 54 games. NHL scouts noticed his efforts and the Ottawa Senators selected him with their pick in the 5th round, No. 136 in the 2012 NHL Draft. He entered the next season with the expectation that he would be a team leader in Indianapolis.

Gay: He’s just got that natural offensive ability and he’s got that little touch that’ll make things happen. That’s what I think they saw in him; he’s slippery out there and he’s got his way about him.

Baillargeon: I’m a playmaker, I would say. I like to move the puck, try to find [teammates], make that nice play or try to find some guys open and create other scoring chances, too. At the same time, if I need to I can shoot the puck, and I try to pick a target or something.

Pham: In the locker room and stuff he obviously was saying hi to us and stuff. It was just the school crowd that he was shy around and even us for a couple weeks, but it wasn’t bad. As far as off the ice goes, he keeps to himself and does his own thing sometimes.

Baillargeon: I pretty much lead by example. In the locker room I tend to keep to myself a little bit. At times I’ll put my word in of what I want to see, too, but other than that I’m just a quiet kid and just go on the ice and do it.

Smolcynski: He’s definitely on his own, he’s always on his computer, but he’s definitely a great roommate. We got along, always had some good times together, always made me laugh.

Baillargeon:  I like to watch a lot of movies, I’m a big movie person. Pretty much anything –  a lot of sports movies, all the heroic sports moves that come out. I love war movies: Pearl Harbor is a good one, Saving Private Ryan is a big one that I like. A lot of action movies. I also like TV shows, Entourage is a big one I watch. Now I watch Suits, that new series. I’m pretty big into that. I also like golf a lot in the off-season.

Fiala: There’s times on a Sunday where you don’t know where he is when he comes back, but then just over time you find out.

The trade

On December 16, 2012, it was announced that Baillargeon was traded to the Omaha Lancers. He had six goals and 15 points in 25 games for Indiana.

Jake Randolph, Omaha Lancers teammate: We actually found out on the bus because of all the social media; some guys were already tweeting from Indiana. We’re all like, ‘Who got traded?’ Guys were like, “What’s going on?’ When we got back in the locker room, the coaches told us what was going on and said he’s coming in.

Fiala: I did not tweet it, but I know that when it happened we all were hanging out at the house and found out right when he got the call. He took a phone call in another room and then came back into the big room where I was and then he told us so we had the last night with him.

Smolcynski: I talked to him about it because we talk just about every day and it was definitely a crazy transition for him. He was pretty excited about it. He just said it’s the way it goes sometimes and you just have to look forward to it and make the most of the opportunity he was given.

Randolph: He was in Indiana, got drafted by them, and then, before you know it, he gets a call that he’s got to get off the plane and play with us the next night. I know that was hard for him because Indiana is so far away from Omaha (600 miles) and we had Christmas Break that weekend, and he lives in Connecticut.

Fiala: It’s a business. It worked out, I guess, for both sides and it really just happens a lot. It was just weird for him because it was right around Christmas Break and it was awkward because he had to go to Omaha and then come back and get his car and get all his stuff and then go home for Christmas. He had to do a lot of travel for that.

Randolph: So, first of all, he has to fly to Indiana, get all his stuff and everything, and go to Connecticut. Then fly back to Indiana, takes his car and everything—because his car and everything was still in Indiana when he came to Omaha—and get all his clothes, everything, and then drive nine hours all the way to Omaha and then get situated.

Brain Kaufman, Omaha Lancers assistant coach: We had to give up a lot to get him, in that trade, some of our future picks and things like that. We had to give up a lot to get him, but it was well worth it and we saw results right away coming in. We actually flew him in and he got into town a few hours before the game, went right to the arena, suited up and had a couple points that night.

Connor Chatham, Omaha Lancers teammate: We got back from the road trip on Saturday at 2 am and coach told us that we were getting a new guy and we had played against him earlier in the year. Our coach didn’t really give us any time to meet him, he just put him in the lineup and we all just introduced ourselves individually.

Randolph: I don’t think anybody played with him or anything, but they heard he’s a good player and we saw that he put up 50 points for Indiana last year so we were very excited. In the first game, in his second shift in he just takes a pass and rips one in.

Smolcynski: I wasn’t surprised at all. He did it here and there’s no doubt that he’s gonna be able to do it in Omaha. He’s been successful everywhere he’s been.

Chatham: Nobody had really talked to him before the game because we had just gotten there, so we really didn’t know what to expect.

Randolph: That was cool and that was huge for our team, I’m pretty sure, was on a losing streak and his performance that night really got us back on [track]. He really made an impact offensively.

Kaufman: We needed offense, we weren’t scoring very well early on, we weren’t producing as much as we liked, so we needed to go out and get a guy that could. Goal scorers are hard to come by and you have to pay a price to get them and we knew we needed that if we were going to go on a run here the rest of the year and make the playoffs.

Randolph: That’s right: He comes off, new team, doesn’t know any of us, jumps right into the game and then gets a lot of playing time too on top of it. He told me he barely got any sleep, obviously, with all that’s going on. I know he was dead tired too. After the game he was barely even talking, but to put up that performance when you go through all that emotion, it’s something special.

Chatham: He actually does not have a roommate, most of the bonding happens on road trips, especially the overnight ones where we are staying at hotels. That’s definitely when we get to know guys better.

Randolph: Personally, he stayed with me for the first week until Christmas Break because he didn’t know where he was staying for a billet house. I bonded with him right away because we’re on the same line and everything. It’s kind of weird how that works because you get a new guy and just right away you bond with him just because we’re all hockey players and have been through everything. You get one road trip and play a couple of games and practices and you’re good to go.

Chatham: Once you hit the road, you definitely get to know the guy a little better, but we knew him pretty well once we hit the road and he inserted himself pretty well into the locker room. He’s a good part of our mix here.

A smart player

Randolph: He’s a smart kid, you can tell. We had this trivia competition with our team this other morning and he got most of them. It was a weird game, all the questions were numbered, 1 through 30 and as you answered them, you crossed off the number because the answer to the question is a number. The first one was like, ‘What is the standard number of holes in golf?’ Which is 18. And then you cross off 18. He was on my team, so yeah, he got all of them. Well…a majority of them.

Chatham: He’s actually similar on and off the ice. He’s really relaxed off the ice and I’d say he’s the same way on. He’s a pretty low-key guy, he’s pretty even-tempered and if you met him on the ice, he’s pretty much the same off [of it].

Kaufman: He sees the game differently than a lot of other guys. Whether that’s slowing it down or he just sees plays that a lot of other guys, your average hockey players, don’t see and plays that he makes other guys don’t. It’s just that type of stuff you can’t teach.

Chatham: He’s more of a playmaking type of guy. He’s always waiting for the best option instead of the first option and he usually makes the right play so I would say his manner definitely complements his game for sure.

Randolph: He’s very good at being a very relaxed player. He’ll just survey the ice and make the right play. I’m a passer so he’ll get open real nicely and you just gotta find him and he’ll bury it. That’s why I think he may be more of a scorer than he is a playmaker. He’s good at sneaking through and finding the nice, soft areas for me to find him.

Chatham: He’s definitely a low-key player. He’s never one of those guys that is going to take over the game the whole time, but he’s a smart player with the puck and if you give him a couple opportunities, he’ll be able to put them in the back of the net. It doesn’t take much space for him to make something happen, that’s for sure.

Randolph: He just kind of has that quiet way about him, both on and off the ice. He’s just a smart player and his relaxed style is a good way to play and it helps him. A lot of guys try to play relaxed on all these stages we play and all the competition and everything and this is just such a fast league, too. He’s just smart enough where he doesn’t need to go that fast, he just knows where to go for certain spots and everything. It’s a good skill he has.

What’s next?

Baillargeon is committed to Boston University for the 2013-14 season. The move will bring him full circle, back to where it all began.

Baillargeon: I love Boston, always have. Growing up I loved all the teams and everyone in the city. I just love being there. I wanted to play college hockey in Boston and when I went and visited BU I just fell in love with it. The facilities they have are unbelievable. They have that new—pretty much new—rink there, the workout room, the locker room, all that is just state-of-the-art. Their coaching and all their staff there, I just knew they were the right fit for me. They are big on developing. They know how to develop players for the NHL and that’s my goal, to play there, so I think they can definitely do that for me.

Kaufman: His offensive ability will take over no matter what. His one issue that we’ve been working with him is sometimes focusing too much on that—worrying too much about just producing and not playing 200 feet or being responsible defensively.

We don’t expect him to go out and put guys through the glass or check them or those types of things necessarily, but to play hard and compete and be responsible defensively to go along with his offensive abilities. He’s going to continue to develop that, but his offensive skills take care of themselves and he’ll do that at any level and he’ll be able to do that as long as he is able to compete in the rest of the areas of the ice he’ll be very good.

Baillargeon: Another reason why I chose BU [is] because it was close to home. It was another hour-and-a-half drive pretty much. I have a lot of family in New England so they haven’t seen me play in maybe two years because I’ve been out here, so it’s definitely going to be pretty special when my family can come down and be able to watch me play.

Since his freshman year of high school, Baillargeon has lived in Enfield, Ashburnham, Indianapolis and Omaha and is committed to go to school in Boston.

So, while Baillargeon may be a bit of a mystery to his teammates, more and more hockey fans are being exposed to his on-ice talents with each move that the well-traveled Baillargeon makes. 

Follow Tom Schreier on Twitter via @tschreier3