Nolan Baumgartner paid tribute to his past while being grateful for the present with an emotional acceptance speech during Monday’s official induction ceremony in Laval, Que., to honour the American Hockey League’s Hall of Fame Class of 2022.
Joining the current Manitoba assistant coach and former Moose team captain in being honoured were Keith Aucoin, Dave Creighton and Bill Torrey.
Longtime AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews was also recognized during Monday’s event at Théâtre Marcellin-Champagnat as the lone inductee for 2021.
Baumgartner, who played 385 of his 878 career AHL games in a Manitoba uniform, had to compose himself several times during his almost eight-minute speech as he personally thanked those who had the greatest influence and impact on him as a player and coach. That list included former coaches Trent Yawney (Norfolk), and Scott Arniel (Manitoba), agent Al Roy, ex-Moose teammate Mike Keane, and his former – but also current – boss, Craig Heisinger.
“Most of you know him as Zinger in this room,” said the 46-year-old Calgary native who scored 41 of his 83 AHL goals and added 141 of his 307 career assists during seven of his 16 seasons for the Moose. “Thank you for always having my back and going to bat for me throughout my career. It never went unnoticed. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to play for the Manitoba Moose, and now be able to coach for the organization, and be able to pass on the knowledge and experience that I’ve learned from playing.”
In addition to Manitoba, Baumgartner also played for Portland, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Iowa and Chicago in the AHL prior to retiring at the end of the 2011-12 season.
The two-time Memorial Cup champion with Kamloops and member of Canada’s World Junior gold medal-winning teams in 1995 and 1996 also played 143 NHL games for seven different teams, including four separate stints with Vancouver.
The long and winding road travelled over the course of that pro career is probably why, after thanking his parents for all their support and guidance over the years, the emotions really took over as Baumgartner recognized the support and love of his immediate family.
“Liz, you’ve been there for the whole journey,” Baumgartner told his wife while fighting back tears. “You’re our biggest supporter and the family rock. You’re always there to hold the fort down. You’re always up for an adventure, and we’ve been on a few in this crazy hockey world. I really wouldn’t be here without your support, patience and love.”
If Baumgartner expressed any regrets on the day, it was that his son Jake wasn’t old enough to remember “Dad the player.”
“I wish we’d had you a little earlier so you could have seen me play a little bit,” he said.