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Published December 20 2010

Minnesota high school hockey: Baker fills void for Lakers

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – Nate Baker just wants to get noticed. Being Minnesota’s second-leading goal scorer in high school boys hockey might help.

So does filling the large offensive void many thought Detroit Lakes would have this season after it lost Tanner Lane, who scored a state-high 90 points (49 goals, 41 points) last season.

With Lane leaving a year early to play with the Fargo Force in the United States Hockey League, it raised questions about Detroit Lakes that Baker’s been able to answer so far.

“A lot of people around town said we’d have trouble without Tanner and it just created a fire in the locker room,” said Baker, who has 12 goals through five games. “It made us upset. Nothing against Tanner because he’s a good guy and great skater, but we wanted to show people we could be good without him.”

So far, things are looking good with Detroit Lakes starting the season 4-1. They were 3-2 last year with Lane in the lineup.

He’s also keeping up with Lane who had 13 goals through five games last year.

Lakers coach Chris Denardo said Baker’s hot start really isn’t a surprise because he scored 45 points (22 goals, 23 assists) in 25 games last year.

“Nate’s biggest thing is he’s real good around the net and good for a quick opportunity,” said Denardo, who has been at Detroit Lakes for three seasons. “If the guys can find him in the lane, he can get the shot off.”

Junior left winger Alex Mason said finding Baker on the ice really isn’t a problem. But it was an adjustment compared to last season, he said.

Mason said because Lane, who is 6-3, was big and athletic, he could posses the puck longer. This year is different with the 5-9 Baker being more of a sniper and a player who relies on a quick shot instead of puck possession.

“I am sure with the way he’s playing right now,” Mason said. “He’ll be the No. 1 scorer soon enough.”

By the way, Mankato West’s Ville Rantanen leads the state with 19 goals.

As for goals, Baker’s got a couple aside from just being noticed.

Like Lane, Baker would like to play junior hockey next season. That could be a possibility with scouts from the USHL and North American Hockey League asking about him.

Like Lane, who’s committed to Nebraska-Omaha, Baker would love to play Division I hockey in the future.

Denardo said there haven’t been any scouts so far but there could be for more reasons than just Baker’s goal scoring because he has a 3.5 grade point average.

But the one thing he could do to gain attention is something Lane and Detroit Lakes didn’t do last year: Win a playoff game.

“Last year in that playoff game, Tanner broke his collarbone and we played the rest of the game without him,” Denardo recalled. “I remember thinking then that we’d be comfortable with our team just in case Tanner didn’t come back.”

Baker eased Denardo’s mind by scoring two goals even though Detroit Lakes lost its first-round playoff game by a goal to Willmar.

But for now, the goals are pretty simple. Keep scoring a lot of them and hope someone notices.

“All I can do is just control how I play and maybe people get someone like a coach or scout to come down and watch me,” Baker said. “But all I can do is keep scoring and make sure I keep having top numbers.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548