Owatonna's Owen Baumgartner, 'a special talent,' will head to Air Force as a NAHL champion
Baumgartner played 181 games in the NAHL. The Owatonna native will begin his college hockey career in the fall at Air Force.
BLAINE, Minn. — One on hand, Owen Baumgartner’s decision to leave home at age 14 wasn’t an easy one.
On the other hand, the choice he made in the fall of 2016 — to head 18 miles north to Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault — wasn’t difficult at all.
The Owatonna native could see what his coaches and teammates in the Owatonna Youth Hockey Association had known for years: Baumgartner had a different level of talent than most of his teammates and opponents.
“It was a really hard decision to leave home,” Baumgartner said. “Even though I was only going 15-20 minutes away, I was still leaving a lot of friends. But to elevate my game, I needed something like Shattuck. It’s known for its hockey, the teams are always good and they produce a lot of great players.
“It was kind of a no-brainer when I had the opportunity.”
The move couldn’t have worked out better for the 5-foot-10, 180-pound defenseman. He excelled and grew on and off the ice over three seasons at Shattuck, where he put up 42 goals and 92 points in 165 games over three seasons.
Baumgartner continued to grow his game year after year at the junior hockey level over the past four seasons, earning a full-ride scholarship to play Division I college hockey for Air Force — and former Rochester Mustangs and Austin Mavericks coach Frank Serratore.
Baumgartner will head to Colorado Springs in the fall, fresh off winning a national championship. His Oklahoma Warriors beat the Austin Bruins 4-3 Tuesday night in a down-to-the-wire North American Hockey League Robertson Cup championship game. It was a rewarding end to his junior career, which began in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, and ended with him hoisting the Robertson Cup after his 181st NAHL game.
“When we were building and constructing our roster, Owen is the type of defenseman we felt we needed to get,” said Oklahoma head coach Garrett Roth, who coached with Bismarck in the NAHL Central Division for eight years before becoming the Warriors' head coach three years ago. “Fortunately we were able to pry him away from Minot (in a trade) and get him to be part of our group.
“From the day he showed up with us until now, he’s only continued to get better. He’s a great person, a great kid who works so hard. And we don’t accomplish this (winning the Robertson Cup) if Owen Baumgartner isn’t on our hockey team.”
I think once my junior career started, I don’t know why, but for some reason my confidence went up and I was able to use my skating and (skills) to my advantage.
Roth raved about Baumgartner’s skills and his intangibles — his leadership ability, knowledge of the game and of the Warriors’ systems. In other words, Baumgartner’s 29 goals and 115 points in 148 career games with the Warriors are no accident. He’s always a right-place-at-the-right-time player.
“He’s one of those guys who’s always shooting pucks after practice, he’s always in the gym,” Roth said. “When we came to training camp (last fall) he was the player who was in the best shape. And his commitment to the defensive side of the game — he’s a special talent, but his commitment to defense, his willingness to block shots and play in the hard areas is really what has allowed him to continue to grow and develop as a player.”
As he stood outside the Warriors locker room late Tuesday night at Fogerty Arena, Baumgartner couldn’t help but smile and reflect on his seven-year journey since leaving Owatonna to chase his hockey dreams. The past four years in particular stand out. He started his NAHL career in Minot, North Dakota, then was traded to the Warriors organization in December of 2021, midway through his second season in the NAHL and while COVID-19 restrictions were still in place in many parts of the country.
After two seasons in Wichita Falls, Texas, Baumgartner moved with the Warriors' franchise to Oklahoma City prior to this season.
“I think once my junior career started, I don’t know why, but for some reason my confidence went up and I was able to use my skating and (skills) to my advantage,” he said. “I put in a lot of extra work on my shooting and skating and it’s really helped me out.”
Baumgartner was one of the Warriors’ nine 20-year-olds who played their last junior hockey game on Tuesday. Though he didn’t wear a letter on his sweater, his coach said he could’ve and would’ve been a captain on many other teams in the league.
“Owen’s going to be a fantastic college player, probably an All-American by the time he’s done at Air Force,” Roth said, “because he’s going to have an opportunity to jump in and play big minutes there to showcase just how special of a hockey player he is.”
Whatever happens during his time at Air Force, Baumgartner said he won’t forget where his passion for the sport began.
“Owatonna Youth Hockey, the teams I played on, the group of guys we had, we had two great coaches who’d get us there an hour early,” he said. “We’d stick-handle and do all of that stuff before we even got on the ice.
“That got me into doing a lot of extra work and doing more to get better and better. I owe a lot to all the guys there.”