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Jeff Baum keen to continue personal growth in Belfast after signing up for second season with Giants


Belfast Giants defenceman Jeff Baum has signed up for a second season at the SSE Arena

Belfast Giants defenceman Jeff Baum has signed up for a second season at the SSE Arena

William Cherry/Presseye

Belfast Giants defenceman Jeff Baum has signed up for a second season at the SSE Arena

Agreeing to move 4,500 miles from your home in Texas to Belfast for your first season as a professional ice hockey player is a bold move, but it was one that paid off handsomely for defenceman Jeff Baum.

The 25-year-old, who turns 26 on Friday, joined the Belfast Giants last season after his collegiate career at American International College came to an end and took to the pro game like a duck to water as he became a vital member of the team’s defensive core.

One of the best defensive players in the entire league let alone on the Giants’ roster, Baum was reliable on the back end all season in helping the team lift the Elite League and Challenge Cup titles, while offensively he recorded three goals and 22 points in 69 games.

And he enjoyed his time at the SSE Arena so much that he’s back for a second season, the Coleyville man the third player to agree a new one-year deal with the Giants for the 2022/23 campaign alongside Ciaran Long and Ben Lake.

"It was always in the back of my head that I would love to come back and play another year in Belfast and grow as an individual and a person,” said a delighted Baum, speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph.

"Coming back to Belfast for a second season allows me to grow more and learn more about the game, as well as push myself to new limits. I want to keep growing and keep moving forward.

"Talking to Keefer (head coach Adam Keefe) and Thornts (head of hockey operations Steve Thornton), everything they were saying just made me more and more excited to come back and I couldn't be happier.”

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Baum is an excellent first piece of the defensive puzzle for the Giants to bring back given they led the league last season in goals conceded having let in just 108 in 54 games, an incredible 23 less than any other team.

While his points tally wasn’t as eye-catching as, say, Griffin Reinhart’s last season, the American blue-liner was never found wanting in his own zone, and his performances were deservedly rewarded when he was named Unsung Hero at the Giants’ end-of-season awards ceremony.

“It was a very awesome experience. It's something as a player whose job is to go in the shadows and do your job quietly, it's a great thing to be noticed on that side of things,” said Baum.

"I'm happy that my team-mates noticed me and the job I was doing, and hopefully next season I can grow a bit more and be more of a sung hero rather than in the background and help us win more trophies.

“I just want to grow on what I did well last year, be good in our own zone and be a penalty kill force as a whole unit.

"I want to become stronger on and off the ice and have as much confidence as I can going into next season so that way, whenever we get into games and get things rolling, I'm ready to contribute and get my top game rolling however I can.”

The hope, of course, is that he can contribute to another winning effort in Belfast next season, although it will have to be another very special campaign if the Giants are to match Baum’s first year with the team.

Keefe’s men were one game away from completing the clean sweep, falling to the Cardiff Devils in the Play-Off Final after having already claimed the League and Cup, but Baum is confident that they can go one step further next season.

However, the 25-year-old is more looking forward to getting back to Belfast and experiencing the small things that make playing hockey special, and he hopes being back in a familiar location will inspire more success.

"As a first pro season, I couldn't have asked for better!” he laughs.

"I really settled into Belfast quickly and I just wanted to make my mark and help the team win. To win two championships last year was amazing. We had a great locker room, everyone worked hard for each other and everyone wanted to win.

"It's important to remember what made us so good last season that helped us achieve so much so that we keep moving forward and have another successful year.

“I learned a lot about myself and a whole new culture, which was so cool to me. Being a part of Belfast and experiencing the impact the organisation has beyond just hockey and on individuals – that right there is the most important thing about playing sport.

"You love playing the game, but it's the things outside the rink that make it special and make it worth the while of all the hard work we put in throughout the season to win trophies.

"Seeing the fans and the impact we can have is what matters most, and that's what I love about Belfast.”

Meanwhile, the Friendship Four have announced that tickets will go on sale for this year’s tournament, which will see US colleges Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, UMass and UMass Lowell battle it out for the Belpot Trophy, on Friday at 5pm.

The tournament hasn’t been run since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it returns this year on October 25/26 at the SSE Arena, where fans will get to see potential future NHL stars – and perhaps future Giants players – in action.

Baum was one of those who played in the Friendship Four when he attended Providence College in 2017 and he had nothing but good things to say about the competition.

"It's a really cool experience to be able to come over in college and experience European hockey from that standpoint and see what it's like to be in a rink like the SSE and being able to experience the fans and culture in Belfast,” he added.

"It's an experience a lot of college programmes should look into doing. It's good for creating relationships for players and they can look at that and say maybe they want to play in Belfast, get to play outside the States and experience a new culture.

"It's an awesome tournament that's well put together and really grows the game of hockey. It grows individuals and you get to experience something that most people don't do in their lives.

"Looking back, it was a big factor in me coming to Belfast last year and now I'm back for a second season!”

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