Building the Herd – Joe Baird

#15 Joe Baird

Position: Defence

Born: Southampton, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Bison website, 18th June

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Bison head coach Doug Sheppard gave the Basingstoke fans a double dose of delight this week with the signing of two defencemen, the first of these being the return of veteran blueliner Joe Baird.

Having made 1 appearance for the Beavers in the 1994/95 season, the Southampton born Baird enters his 9th season as a part of hockey in Basingstoke and his 21st in senior hockey.

A product of the Basingstoke junior system, Joe made fleeting appearances with the senior side in the BHL and Superleague. After a productive 97/98 campaign with the Buffalo in what was ED1 (now NIHL), Joe earned a full time roster spot with the Bison on their entry into the British National League in 1998. Joe remained part of the roster through till 2002 and famously scored in both Benson and Hedges Plate finals as the Bison notched back to back wins in the competition and were the last winners.

2002 saw Joe move away from Basingstoke and the start of his time in the EPL with the Wightlink Raiders. After 47 points in just over 100 appearances for the Isle of Wight, Joe moved to Bracknell for the start of the 2005/06 season. 4 successful years with the Bees were punctuated with the 2006/07 league and playoff double under then coach Ryan Aldridge where Joe played 179 games for the Hive based side.

Baird was to team up with Aldridge when he signed for Swindon to start 2009/10. 4 years with the Wildcats yielded 180 appearances and Baird became a popular player in Wiltshire though his last 2 seasons at The Link were hampered by injury.

It was something of a surprise for many when Doug Sheppard signed him in Basingstoke at the start of last season, many pointing towards the signing as further evidence of a presumed low finish for the Herd. Sheppard however instantly gave Baird an alternate captain’s letter on his jersey and Baird quietly went about his work. Arguably one of the Bison’s unsung heroes of the season, Baird tallied 11 points in 54 games and 140 PIMs, his highest season total since winning the EPL with Bracknell. Baird’s season will likely best be remembered for a moment of history repeating itself when he scored the Bison’s 3rd goal in the playoff final win over Manchester Phoenix. He also celebrated his 500th EPL appearance during the season, the second Bison player to do so after Michael Wales.

Joe also represented Great Britain 9 times at under 18 level and 8 times at under 20s where he tallied 2 points.

I’ll start with a story; it’s the morning of Sunday 6th April 2014 and I’m sitting in the front room of The Windmill pub in Coventry surrounded by a variety of people and wires as Ben Knight hosts a live edition of the Phoenix Podcast. As Ben’s a true professional, the show is running late and the topic of conversation has turned to the previous day’s events and the Bison’s win over Guildford in the playoff semi final. Someone’s mentioned Nicky Chinn’s performance and before I give Ben the chance to move on, I interrupt because I needed to talk about Joe Baird. I needed to mention that whilst Chinn grabbed the headlines for “that goal”, Baird’s performance had been outstanding and when the Bison had looked shaky, Joe remained unshaken. Not only did I manage to briefly hijack the show down that route but someone (who shall remain nameless…unless you dig out the podcast recording) who readily admitted they didn’t like him as a player was forced to admit the quality of Joe’s play on that day was brilliant.

Everyone will talk about Joe’s goal in the final and rightly so; the habit he has of scoring in big finals for Basingstoke is an interesting anomaly and it was a much needed goal but that semi final stands out for me as a performance that should be talked about but probably won’t.

It’s the curse of the way Joe plays the game in some ways. Permanently solid, low risk, low fuss and thus he doesn’t stand out. Your eyes are drawn to the booming(ish) shot and size of Vantroba or the versatility and quality of Reynolds. Joe Baird has really good positioning, hits well and plays really good outlet passes from the zone and thus doesn’t get the plaudits, not that he really cares.

Some argued that he takes unneeded penalties at times, there’s probably an argument to be made there as he didn’t get 140 penalty minutes by fighting. The joke for many was if Joe would get a hooking call but when. It’s true as well that Joe’s not the fastest guy out there and occasionally, you tug a guy back and you get called. Sometimes you don’t. It will be interesting to see whether his penalty minutes go up or down across this coming campaign. He certainly won’t be used for fighting if needed (hi Matt Selby) and we await how the officials will decide to call borderline checks.

I kind of understand why people who watch Joe Baird on another team don’t like him. He’s a veteran who plays with a bit of an edge and will do what needs to be done to get an advantage. The benefit of a season of watching him helped my appreciation of him grow from “he’s a role player” to “he’s a needed player”. It’s all well and good saying teams need veteran presence (they do) but Joe’s actually a really good defenceman. People won’t like how he plays, people may not even notice he is there at times. All that means is he’s doing his job well. However I do recommend one game where you pay extra attention to him for all the little things that he does. It’s an education in itself.

Welcome back, Joe; all clutch goals are greatly received.


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