A look back at Baker, Clark, Heelis, & Gibbons
Acadia University has been a hot bed for hockey talent for many years… through the late 1980’s and 1990’s, Acadia was a perennial favourite to challenge for the AUS and CIS National titles. Throughout those years, there were many hockey greats to suit up with the Axemen, be it future NHLer Chris Kotsopoulos, or Darren Colbourne, Norm Batherson, George Dupont, Kevin Knopp, Mark McFarlane, Jeff MacLeod and Sean O’Reilly just to name a few. Most notably, in 1994, Axemen Duanne Dennis was the first Acadia University player to be named the nation’s top men’s hockey player, winning the Senator Joseph A Sullivan Trophy.
Since 2000 though, Acadia has turned out some of the top men’s university hockey talent in the country, let’s look back at a few of those who earned exceptional honours:
Kevin Baker, a native of Kingston, Ontario, was a 1999 NHL draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, chosen in the 7th round. He chose to come to Acadia University after two season of playing in the AHL (American Hockey League) and ECHL (East Coast Hockey League) leagues.
Baker said, “I had to sit out my first year at Acadia (due to being a pro for two years previous) and got to help out, almost like an assistant coach. It was a great experience with my head coach, Darren Burns so I got to see that side of college life, and then I played for three years. I was MVP one year and then we went to the Nationals one year, so it was a really good experience.”
From 2003-2006 in 77 regular season games with Acadia, Baker racked up 103 points including 24 goals and 40 points in 28 games in 2004-05, and 24 goals and 47 points in 05-06. His performance in 05-06 led him to be named the CIS Player of the Year, earning the Senator Joseph A Sullivan trophy.
Acadia head coach Darren Burns said of Baker “He was a pure goal scorer, who always seemed to come up with the clutch goal, when we really needed it. He was very deserving of the prestigious award.”
After graduating, Baker went on to play in the pro ranks in the ECHL, AHL, Germany, Italy, and CHL (Central Hockey League), being named the ECHL MVP in 2008-09, scoring 102 point and being named to the first all-star team. He had also been named to the ECHL first all-star team in 06-07 as well. He continued to be a prolific scorer as late as last season, in 2014-15 with the ECHL’s Quad City Mallards, Kevin notched 50 points in 59 games. He finished off the season by representing the United States in the 2015 Ice Hockey Classic in Australia this summer, playing against many NHL, AHL, and ECHL players.
Andrew Clark, a native of Brandon, Manitoba, graduated with a Kinesiology degree in 2013. From 2009-13 in 111 regular season games, Clark amassed 131 points, including 39 points in 28 games in 2011-12. That year he was named a CIS First Team All-Canadian, and named the CIS Men’s hockey player of the year, becoming the third Axemen to take home the Senator Joseph A. Sullivan Trophy. He was named a 2012 finalist for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport and national law firm Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG) Award for top male athlete in the country.
“He was a tremendous leader for our hockey club. To be in on over 40 per cent of our team’s goals in 2011-12 was a truly remarkable statistic,” said Acadia coach Darren Burns. “His approach to the game was very refreshing as he was a very unselfish player whose only concern was our team’s success. Even more impressive was his ability to help so many first year players get acclimatized to university life and the game itself.”
The following year in 2012-13, Andrew was named a CIS Second Team All Canadian. Upon graduating from Acadia University, Clark joined the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder, scoring 35 points in just 31 games, before being called up to the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he recorded 19 points in 35 games.
He decided to take his talents overseas to Denmark where he scored 75 points in just 36 games with Esbjerg to lead the Top Denmark league in scoring. This season, Andrew currently ranks amongst the top scorers in the top men’s hockey league in Switzerland.
Liam Heelis, a native of Georgetown, Ontario, he played with Acadia from 2011-2015, recording 112 points in 109 games. In 2013-14 he led the CIS in scoring with 24 goals in 26 games, and 42 points, and was named to the CIS First All-Canadian team. In doing so the Acadia Axemen captain was named the 2014 winner of the Senator Joseph A. Sullivan Trophy as national MVP, the 4th Axemen to be given this honour. Just as his former teammate Andrew Clark had been two years earlier, Heelis was named a finalist for the 2014 CIS BLG Award for top male athlete in the country.
During December of the 2014 season, Heelis was also a member of the Men’s Canadian hockey team that captured gold at the FISU Winter Universiade in Trentino, Italy.
Heelis had high praise for the support from the Acadia University and surrounding community, saying “We have a home like no other in the Annapolis Valley and Wolfville community in terms of supporters, fans and alumni.”
Axemen head coach Darren Burns said of Heelis, Acadia was “extremely proud” of Heelis’ accomplishments, both on the ice and as “a leader in the community and at Acadia. His determination, leadership and commitment as a person showed every day in practice and in games, enabling him to be a very dominant player for our team,”
“I would be hard-pressed to say I have witnessed a player improve as much as Liam did” since coming to Acadia, Burns said. “His outstanding season in 2013-14 was instrumental in our team’s success, and making it to the CIS national tournament.”
After graduating from Acadia in the Spring of 2015, Heelis is now continuing his education, and is enrolled in an Ontario University in a Masters program for Kinesiology & Phys.Ed, where he continues to play hockey, putting up impressive offensive numbers this season.
Travis Gibbons, a native of London, Ontario, and a 2015 graduate of Kinesiology from Acadia University. A defenceman for the Axemen, heplayed for Acadia from 2011-2015, recording 39 points in 97 regular season games.
In 2012-13, he was selected as one of the CIS Top Eight Academic All-Canadians, and was honoured at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, by his Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnson.
In the classroom, Gibbons maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average in the first two years of his kinesiology degree. A two-time CIS Academic All-Canadian and member of the Dean’s List, he was Acadia’s most decorated male student-athlete in 2012-13.
The native of London, Ont., was also involved in the community since his first day in Wolfville, N.S. The recipient of Acadia’s Randy Ferris Award for community service, he has volunteered with the Terry Fox Run, the S.M.I.L.E. program, Kinderskills and Acadia Minor Hockey, as well as Parkwood Hospital back home in London.
“Travis was an excellent ambassador for our hockey program. He was a role model for all student-athletes, not just on the Axemen hockey team but for Varsity Athletics here at Acadia,” said Acadia hockey coach Darren Burns. “He encompassed what a CIS student- athlete should be and he set a very high bar here at our own institution.”
Since graduating from Acadia in the spring of 2015, Gibbons is now taking graduate studies in Ontario.