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Smart Bomber

Baumgartner smashes hockey's goon stereotype

July 09, 2002|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In his 12 seasons as an NHL enforcer, including stints with the Kings and Mighty Ducks, Ken Baumgartner made his living mostly with his fists, rarely backing down from a fight while amassing 2,244 penalty minutes.

But his biggest quarrel was with those who branded him a goon.

As proud as he was to last a dozen years in the league with only a modicum of talent and almost no scoring ability, netting 13 goals in 696 games, Baumgartner never wanted his on-ice role to define him, nor did he believe it should.

"For the fear of being mislabeled," the former "Bomber" says, "I did go the extra mile when I was away from the arena."

It led him eventually to the prestigious Harvard Business School, from where Baumgartner, 36, graduated last month, accepting his master's degree in a hockey rink, oddly enough, after rain had forced the commencement ceremony inside.

After spending his NHL career shepherding the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Paul Kariya, keeping them out of harm's way, Baumgartner will embark next month on a new career in private wealth management at Goldman, Sachs & Co. in Century City, where he will guide the fortunes of the super rich.

If it seems an unlikely transition, Baumgartner has always smashed stereotypes, exuding the same gusto with which he once busted heads.

"Not everybody could make the transition, but Kenny is unique," says Tom Schwartz, a regional manager in charge of private wealth management at Goldman, Sachs. "He's very cerebral, he's very team-oriented. He's got a good sense of urgency about him, which you need to have in this business."

A husband and father of two young girls, Baumgartner was active in the NHL Players' Assn., serving as vice president for several years. In his last NHL stop, with the Boston Bruins, he was an alternate captain.

And over 14 years, balancing his NHL duties with part-time studies, the native of the tiny mining town of Flin Flon, Canada, earned a bachelor's degree in business administration, graduating summa cum laude from Hofstra University in 1998.

"You wouldn't think a guy who could drop the gloves and beat you up could beat you in algebra too," Steve Heinze, a former teammate, once said of Baumgartner. "He's quite a versatile guy."

Says Baumgartner, "Anyone who has followed my career will understand that I put a lot of effort into preparing myself for life after hockey and showing hockey fans there's more to Ken Baumgartner than they may have seen on the ice....

"Unfortunately, I was never able to evolve into a 40-goal scorer who could have someone look after him. I never had those skills. But perhaps that motivated me to become involved with the business side of the sport ... and I created a balance in my life by attending school in the off-season."

Baumgartner played his last game in April 1999 and, while serving as an assistant to then-Bruin coach Pat Burns in the 1999-2000 season, applied to Harvard Business School with an eye toward returning to the NHL.

"I thought it provided the clear transition," he says. "I was a laborer, then I was middle management. I'll go to business school and I'll come back and move into a front-office position."

He had a change of heart after the Bruins faltered.

"It was a bad season," he says. "We didn't make the playoffs. Although we weren't fired, the head coach was fired eight games into the next season. It just led me to reassess the insecurity of that profession."

Nevertheless, Baumgartner says his background served him well even as he shifted his focus to investment management.

"Many of the same skills that one acquires in a team sport or a locker-room surrounding transfer very positively to not only a classroom but a business environment--dedication, discipline, accountability, the ability to speak up amongst your peers. Things that were second nature that I developed in the NHL--teamwork, leadership skills--came in very handy in a business school environment."

The presence of a former NHL player, meanwhile, was handy for his classmates, who enlisted his help as a defenseman on the HBS Blades hockey team.

"I bet it was the only time since I was 10 years old that I felt there was the expectation of how the team did was based on my performance," Baumgartner told the Boston Globe.

The business school graduate won't rule out a return to the NHL but says, "If that were to happen, it would be quite a ways in the horizon."

After a playing career that also included time with the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, Baumgartner is looking forward to settling down with his family in their new home in Brentwood.

"One of the great advantages of the job I'll be entering is, if I'm successful, I won't be traded," he says. "I could still be doing it 20 years from now."

And no one will be calling him a goon.

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