Loyola Gold is showing the Scholastic Hockey League, and the rest of Illinois, that its late-season heartache of last year will not roll with the Ramblers once again this season.
In the elite eight round of the 2023 Illinois High School Hockey State Tournament, the No. 7-seeded Ramblers faced No. 2 Glenbrook South in Bensenville, with the winner set to battle the winner of York/Saint Ignatius.
Mike Baker, a left-handed-shooting center for Gold, came through with the game-tying assist and the game-winning goal as the Ramblers upset GBS, 2-1 – with York next in the state semifinals.
The Dukes, though, silenced Gold, 2-0.
“(It’s) very frustrating to think about … we had such a good group of guys with such great chemistry,” Baker said. “We fought hard and lost to a good York team. It’s still painful to think about what could have been, but we have a great group this year and I am confident we can do it this year.”
The 2023-24 Ramblers may be one of the best-ever in coach D.J. LaVarre’s long, illustrious run at Loyola Academy. How good are the Ramblers?
Well, they finished October with a 4-game winning streak and were 7-2 for the month in the Scholastic Hockey League. They closed October outscoring their final four opponents 23-2 and that stretch included one eye-popping win for sure: 5-0 over No. 1-ranked New Trier Green, their longtime bitter rival.
“We are going to be really good. We have unbelievable seniors and tremendous talent with a locker room that is very tight knit,” Baker said. “The strength of Gold is our chemistry and the fact that everyone always buys in to the brotherhood.”
Baker, in his third season on Gold, doesn’t hesitate. The team has one goal this season: Win State.
Even when asked his personal goals for the season, Baker answered: “All I want to do is to win a state championship with my boys.”
Baker, 18, who lives in Wilmette and played his youth hockey for the Winnetka Warriors, has been skating for more than 10 years – and one of his fondest early memories was scoring 6 goals during a Thanksgiving weekend tournament when he was 7 or 8. “It’s always fun to remember stuff like that,” he said.
The Ramblers again play host to the annual 52nd annual O’Grady Thanksgiving Hockey Tournament at the end of November, one of the biggest milestones on the Illinois High School Hockey schedule.
Baker is not a flashy forward and, he said, is not a super talented player by any means. “I think I play well with certain guys, especially Cole Joubert and Charlie Baine,” he said. “I make the guys around me better with my defense and passing.”
Especially Baine, his teammate since they were 8. “My first time ever skating was with (Baine) and his dad on a random outdoor rink,” Baker said.
Baker is uncertain of his college plans for next fall, but he wants to play college football. Baker spent three seasons on the Loyola varsity football team as a wide receiver and kicker, including the school’s 2022 Class 8A state championship, capping “such a great season,” he said.
At the end of October, Baker helped lead the No. 2-ranked Ramblers to a 23-21 win over No. 1-ranked Mount Carmel, snapping the Caravan’s 22-game winning streak.
Baker had a 65-yard touchdown reception and a 48-yard field goal.
“Hockey has helped me so much with football because it makes me not so one-dimensional,” Baker said. “Playing football is a very big commitment and something that is not taken lightly, ever. Sometimes I get caught up in football and feel as if that is the only thing in my life. Having hockey helps me to understand that there is more than just football.
“Football and hockey help me physically and mentally; (they are) huge for me. If I am ever stressed about football, knowing that I still have hockey makes me feel so happy. Football has made me a way harder worker in hockey in terms of the hours I put in to work on and off the ice and (studying) film. I watch around five hours of film every week in football; that has helped me appreciate how helpful film is in all sports.”
Slapshots With … Loyola Gold forward Mike Baker
Off The Ice: Enjoys playing chess, ping pong and pickup basketball
Off-ice Activities That Help On The Ice: Lifting weights, box jumps, chess and film
Favorites NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Connor Bedard
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: Miracle
Favorite TV Show: The Office
Favorite Pre-game Meal: Steak and potatoes
Favorite app: Chess.com
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Marcuss Lutrell (Lone Survivor)
Best Hockey Tip: “Always keep your feet moving.” - Ryan Boersma
Hardest Slapshot on Gold: DJ Long
Most Accurate Show on Gold: Charlie Baine
Gold Player Who You Could See As A Hockey Coach: Chris Sipe
Best High School Uniforms (other than Loyola): Glenbrook South