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From NHL Enforcer to Harvard

February 20, 2000|JIMMY GOLEN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

BOSTON — Ken Baumgartner amassed 2,244 penalty minutes and 13 goals in 13 years in the NHL. Now the former enforcer is cultivating his cerebral side and enrolling at Harvard Business School.

"You wouldn't think a guy who could drop the gloves and beat you up could also beat you in algebra, too," Bruins forward Steve Heinze said. "He's quite a versatile guy."

A 33-year-old father of two daughters, a former official in the NHL Players Association and now a Boston assistant coach, Baumgartner never thought of himself as a "goon," and it clearly bothers him that some might consider it his legacy.

"I never confused who I was on the ice with who I was off the ice," Baumgartner said. "My job wasn't the easiest or the prettiest in the hockey environment. But there was always more to the role than just fighting. You don't survive for 13 years in the NHL just by being able to fight."

In fact, when he saw that an interview was going to focus on the less intellectual part of his game, Baumgartner quickly grew testy. After a few questions, he stormed across the locker room at the Bruins practice facility in Wilmington and shouted at a reporter, "What were your GMAT scores? What was your GPA? Where did you go to college?" before barreling out the door and driving off.

Minutes later, the silver Mercedes was headed back into the parking lot. Baumgartner pulled to a stop, climbed out of the car and headed back for the door he just exited.

"I want to do this," he said, motioning to the reporter to follow.

"Maybe I felt I (overcame) this a long time ago," he said. "That explains my frustration."

He then began a recitation of his resume--not just as a hockey player and coach, but as a student who graduated high school in 1984 and spent the next 14 years taking correspondence courses so that he could get a college degree from Hofstra.

"While most of my teammates were playing golf, or doing other things, during the offseason, I was in school," he said. "I spent 15 years preparing for this. In many ways, it will be a welcome change."

He also was a vice president of the players' union during the contentious contract negotiations that included the 1994 lockout. And, after retiring as a player after last season, Baumgartner joined the Bruins staff as an assistant to coach Pat Burns.

"That is a larger part of who I am and my experience," he said. "You're emphasizing the enforcer part too much. That was only part of my game. That's how I broke into the league 12 years ago. But that role requires mental strength--perhaps more than any other, aside from goaltending."

Business school, Baumgartner said, was the logical next step. He discussed his plan with Boston defenseman Don Sweeney, who went to Harvard as an undergraduate, and former Bruin Gord Kluzak, who went to Harvard after an injury cut his playing career short and then got his business degree there, too.

"Any of us realize that athletic careers are short-term. You're going to be a young guy when you leave, even if you have a long career," Kluzak said. "At 35, you are an old man in athletics, but a 35-year-old is a young guy in business.

"The bottom line is that Kenny worked very hard to get his undergraduate degree when he was playing. When I was in business school, he took a real interest. I could see that he was very serious about it, and he was willing to make the investment of time, money and effort.

"I'm so excited for him. It's a new world that he doesn't really know exists yet and he's going to bring a lot to the classroom," Kluzak said. "I think he'll do terrific. He's just a flat-out smart guy."

Baumgartner applied to three business schools, stressing in his applications the teamwork and leadership that he developed in his NHL career; he was accepted at two. After he gets his MBA, he will think about returning to hockey, but he isn't sure that he will.

"There will be some opportunities on the business side of hockey for me. But I'm going to be spending two years away," he said. "I may decide that something totally different than anything I've been involved in to this point."

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