Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 8:48 PM on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hannah Baird understands love through hockey

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff Writer


Hannah Baird

Like any 15-year-old girl, Hannah Baird can get a little giddy.

What separates her from her peers, though, is her level of commitment to the object of her affection.

"I just love hockey. I really do. I can't imagine not doing it," Baird said.

She has played since age 4, up through the ranks of Homer Hockey Association and her freshman year as a defender for the Mariners.

Last summer, she tried out for the Alaska Allstars, a 19-and-under Tier II girls hockey team in Anchorage. Since then, she's traveled to the big city once or twice per week for practice. In September, the team went undefeated in a Cleveland, Ohio, tournament that included 13 teams from Canada and the U.S.

The first weekend of March they won the Pacific District title at a tournament in Anaheim, Calif.

"I don't think I've ever had such an amazing moment," Baird said of winning the deciding game.

"I was happier than I think I'd ever been. As soon as the buzzer went off in the last game it was chaos... It was purely emotional and amazing. We're like, 'oh my gosh now we get to go farther,'" she said.

Now Baird and the Allstars are on their way to the National Hockey Tournament in Anaheim March 30-April 3, where they will compete against the top 12 teams in the United States.

"It's beyond anything I've dreamed of. I am looking forward to it more than I've looked forward to practically anything. I'm giddy with excitement," Baird said.

In short, she's glad she made the commitment.

It took a lot of family discussion time to decide to take the Allstar leap, and it continues to be a group process.

"It's expensive. It's a big time commitment. So we try to figure out how to make it work. It's been completely worth it. It's helped Hannah get to be a better hockey player because that's what her goal is," said Marie McCarty, Baird's mother.

Baird likes playing with the older girls because they challenge and inspire her to improve her skills. She decided at a very young age to play high school hockey. Now her heart is set on taking it to the college level.

"I was so happy because it was just exactly where I want to be. It's the best team I think I could ever be on."

Most of the girls on the team are from Anchorage, though others hail from Peters Creek, Wasilla, Kenny Lake, Soldotna and Kenai. Baird is the youngest on the team.

"To be on this team you have to have a huge level of commitment if you don't live in Anchorage, and even if you do live in Anchorage... on and off ice," Baird said.

Allstars Head Coach Dave McCarrey said her age and attitude were big factors in his decision to take her on the team.

"You always want to develop your pool. We took 'em on as projects, and I say that respectfully, not derogatorily. So far the project's been a good risk," he said.

"She's a very personable kid. She's a hard worker and always wanting to get better."

Baird's high school coach concurs.

"She has a lot of promise. She'll get better and better because she wants to," said Mariners Hockey Coach Buck Laukitis.

"If it's their passion they really need to go and play at a level where they belong," he said.

Playing co-ed high school and all-girls hockey has greatly expanded Baird's hockey experience, both physically and mentally.

"The combination of the two teams has been a really good thing. She's learning really different skills with the two teams that are really complementary. She seems like she's grown a ton," McCarty said.

Where high school hockey is fast and physical, the girls' game is more mental. While she plays defense in high school, Baird is a forward for the Allstars.

Baird said she has a better sense of the game from the defensive perspective, but she likes what she's learning up front.

"People tell me and I believe that if I can play forward and defense it will make me as a player a lot more helpful to the team. I'm really starting to enjoy offense and figuring out how to play the opposite side of the game," she said.

Though she doesn't have high school practice anymore, Baird trains after school every day and gets to the rink whenever she can.

"I have very little free time, but I love it so much it doesn't even matter to me how much stuff I miss. I would rather be doing hockey than pretty much anything else."

Nonetheless, Baird keeps her grades up and is involved with other extracurricular activities such as the environmental youth group EcoLogical and the newest high school musical "Rent."

"I like being busy. I like to think that I'm well rounded," she said.

She feels bad that she can't hang out with friends here, but she said they are understanding.

"She's made up her mind that this is worth the amount of time it requires. We're hugely proud of her making that commitment, because there's a lot of other things to do," McCarty said.

Baird knows her parents could be doing a lot of other things, too.

"I'm so thankful for what my parents do, they've made it so amazing for me. My mom has driven me up to Anchorage just for one practice before because she knows the team needs me and I need to practice. If that's not love, I don't even know what is."

Lindsay Johnson may be reached at Lindsay.johnson@homernews.com.