Stephen Baylis’ adjustment to college hockey and college life in general wasn’t easy.
Now that the Bowling Green freshman left wing has developed a routine, improved his time management, and worn Mark Cooper’s backup pair of skates, he’s played well down the stretch.
Baylis has four goals and four assists in the last 11 games entering the Falcons’ final series of the regular season.
BG, 19-11-6 overall and 15-6-5 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, visits Alabama-Huntsville (6-20-6, 4-16-6) Friday and Saturday nights in its bid to capture the regular-season league championship.
The Falcons are tied with 13th-ranked Michigan Tech for second place in the league, just two points behind No. 16 Minnesota State. BG already has clinched home ice for the WCHA quarterfinals March 11-12-13.
Baylis’ play is one reason BG has scored three or more goals in seven of its last 11 games, including 10 goals in last weekend’s home sweep of Ferris State. He has a goal and three assists, and an on-ice rating of +3 in his last three games.
With the encouragement of the coaching staff, Baylis and teammate and roommate Joe McKeown designed a routine to help them with their time management for the second half of the season.
“I’ve been in a routine for the last month or so since Christmas break,” Baylis said. “I really didn’t have a routine coming into college, and I learned a big part of college hockey is routine — the classes, the weightlifting, the practices, the eating habits, the pregame, how you warm up, how you get prepared.”
McKeown also has improved during the second half. After playing in just two games before Christmas, the forward has played six of the last 10 games. The freshman forward has two goals and one assist in that span.
“We’ve held each other accountable to that routine,” Baylis said. “We’ve both been playing better, and it’s paid off.”
The 6-foot-1, 201-pound Baylis is a power forward who can provide the Falcons with speed and skill, and size and strength in all three zones. He has five goals and seven assists in 29 games, and an on-ice rating of +5. He has just four penalties, all minors.
“He’s a guy who plays the game hard,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “He’s strong on the puck, and he sees hockey plays other players don’t see. He’s guy can who can score goals. He’s done that before. That’s just a matter of getting more opportunities and being around it more.
“When he’s on, he’s on the puck, he’s skating, and he’s making small hockey plays, whether that’s to other players or himself,” Bergeron added. “He’s a guy who can play in his own zone because he’s competitive.”
Baylis came to BG from the Carleton Canadians of the Central Canadian (Junior) Hockey League where he totaled 97 goals and 139 assists in 258 regular-season and playoff games. He was the CCHL’s most valuable player last season.
With those numbers, he was expected to be a major contributor offensively for the Falcons from Day 1. He also finished second in the preseason voting for the WCHA Rookie of the Year Award.
Baylis had one assist in BG’s Canadian exhibition Oct. 3, but had to sit out the first six games under NCAA rules because he had Canadian Major A experience.
He finally made his official Falcon debut Nov. 1 at Alaska-Anchorage, but went nine games without a point and didn’t score his first goal until his 12th game. That came Dec. 11 when he had one goal and one assist in a 4-1 win at Bemidji State.
“The start of the year, I was trying to feel it out and see what the older guys were doing and learn from them,” Baylis said. “Sitting out the first six games gave me a chance to watch and learn, but it was kind of tough at the start of the season. That first weekend, I played pretty well, and then it went down. My level of play decreased. I lost the feel for it. I wasn’t playing very well.
“I wasn’t producing to the best of my abilities,” Baylis added. “It’s pretty apparent when you don’t feel confident, you don’t feel like you’re involved in the game, like you’re not helping the team to win, it’s an easily realization something had to change.”
The routine and the improved time management were the result of that.
Baylis said he finally felt comfortable during BG’s split at No. 16 Minnesota State Feb. 5-6 — the result of wearing Cooper’s backup skates because he forgot to pack his own skates for the trip. He’ll switch to Cooper’s model of skates next season, but has returned to wearing his own skates.
“I never felt better,” Baylis said. “I forgot about everything else. I have new skates on. What do I have to lose? I felt more comfortable in my game because I wasn’t so focused on the little things as much. I felt more relaxed, and I had a pretty good weekend, even though I didn’t produce. I felt confident, smooth, strong.”
The now-confident Baylis has nine shots on goal and is +4 in the last four games. He also skates on the power play. The 21-year-old is from Ottawa, Ontario.
“We almost built him up to be something too big, that’s not even fair for a freshman,” Bergeron said. “You’re in the lineup. The savior is here. We didn’t need a savior. We just needed someone to contribute.
“To see him now, he’s more comfortable in the classroom,” Bergeron added. “He’s more comfortable overall on the ice. We don’t have a fear that comfort level will cause him to take his foot off the gas and stop working. He’ll never stop working. It’s a comfort level that will enable him to be the player he’s capable of being, and he’s not so worried about the system or school, and he can just play hockey. What you’re seeing of late is a young guy who has a chance to be a pretty special player.