Soy wins player of the month but Americans vote for their own
The Belfast Giants December Player of the Month race may be one of the best they’ve ever had as not only did it go down to the wire, it attracted interest not just from Northern Ireland but from further afield.
Initially only between Tyler Soy and wing extraordinaire J.J. Piccinich, defenceman Jeff Baum was unexpectedly thrust into the conversation late in the day when his alma mater, American International College, weighed into the voting.
“I didn’t know much about it, to be honest!” laughs Baum.
“There was a bit of talk in the locker room about it, but social media isn’t something I dive into too deeply. But it was nice to see I had people back home voting, I thought it was awesome, it was great to see all of those people getting involved on Twitter.”
Ultimately, it would be Soy who would win it for a month where he scored five goals and seven points in eight games. Not that Baum minded, though — he was just happy to see the range of players who could have won.
“Soysy might have won it, but there have been loads of guys playing well of late and stepping up during quarantine and injuries,” says the American.
“It’s well deserved for Tyler, we’re both here together for our first year as pro, so it’s nice to see another rookie get recognised.”
Both players have dived headfirst into the professional game this season and thrived. Soy took a little while to find his feet but has since dazzled, but Baum has been one of the Giants’ most dependable players all season.
His defence-first style of play means he doesn’t steal many headlines — as three goals and nine points in 29 games would suggest — but that is more than made up for by his excellent hockey IQ and defensive vision.
Baum’s ability to read plays and shut them down before they develop has been central to the Giants claiming the Elite League’s best defensive record and, without him, the likes of Soy and Piccinich wouldn’t be able to put the puck in the net either.
It’s all the more impressive given that he isn’t yet a year out of the NCAA, the transition having been a seamless one.
“It’s a big jump in the pace of the game and it’s a bigger sheet of ice as well, so you have to do a lot of work on your angles and where you are positionally,” explains the 25-year-old.
“For me, the most important thing I’ve always taken with me in my career is the ability to play smart and be in the right position at the right time. That has really helped me in that jump to pro hockey, just trying to be as consistent as I can be in stopping the puck in our zone and getting it to the forwards.”
But rather than just leave it to them, Baum has even started chipping in offensively himself, scoring against the Dundee Stars on New Year’s Eve before potting a highlights reel goal in Sunday’s overtime win at the Fife Flyers, going top shelf short-side from a ridiculous angle on Shane Owen.
“It was a pretty tight angle, so I’ll take it!” he grins humbly.
“I got a good pass from Gary (Mark Garside) and it created a lane for me to go towards the net. Bouch (Jordan Boucher) did a great job battling in front taking away the eyes of the goalie and I was the lucky guy who got to put the puck in the back of the net.”
The Giants will need at least two goals tonight when they switch their focus away from their 10-game winning run in the Elite League to the second leg of their Challenge Cup quarter-final against the Coventry Blaze at the SSE Arena (7pm).
Trailing 3-2 from the first leg, Baum and his team-mates know only a win by at least two will get them into the last-four, and he says they are determined to keep fighting on two fronts.
“It’s nice to be in contention on both fronts and we just have to make sure we don’t let (the win streak) get to our heads, that we keep working hard,” he adds.
“As long as everybody is coming to the rink every morning and working hard, and we’re enjoying the work we’re putting in, then we’ll keep moving.”