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January 16, 1956
Hobey Baker, idol of thousands when he played hockey before World War I, looked and acted the hero's role. When he was killed in 1918, the whole nation mourned
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January 16, 1956

Everybody's Hero On Skates

Hobey Baker, idol of thousands when he played hockey before World War I, looked and acted the hero's role. When he was killed in 1918, the whole nation mourned

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The saga of blond Hobart Amory Hare Baker, hockey player extraordinary and one of the most beloved athletes of his day, still mists the eye of every true Princetonian, although the youth with the flashing skates last performed some 40 years ago. They called him "the fastest thing on ice," a label that was never challenged, even by the Canadian professionals of his day. He was a dead shot and his stick handling was beautiful. Once he had the puck, he never looked at it, seeming to know where it was by the pressure on his wrist. As a rover, he was a one-man team, called "Baker and six other players."

Baker's stamina was incredible. One game against a crack Harvard team went the two regulation halves of 20 minutes each, a 10-minute overtime, and a "sudden death" period that was decided only after 23 more minutes. During every second of the 73-minute game, Baker effortlessly skimmed over the ice, seeming to be everywhere at once. When everyone else was exhausted, he was as fresh as ever.

Baker was from Philadelphia and attended St. Paul's School, Concord, N.H. in the early 1900s. There he exhibited the character as well as skating ability that later endeared him to Old Nassau and thousands of sports fans beyond. He was gay, daring and a perfect sportsman, an improbable combination of virtues made palatable by his charm and self-effacing manner. Everybody's "great guy," he made people feel good when he was around, although they could describe him only in superhuman terms.

By autumn of 1910, when he entered Princeton, Hobey was an outstanding stick master. As a freshman he was the top all-round athlete of his class, being proficient at golf, track, swimming, gymnastics and football. (In his senior year he captained the Tiger football team and dropkicked a 43-yard field goal to tie a game with Yale.) In his sophomore year he made the varsity hockey team and started to hit the headlines. That season Princeton won every game and the intercollegiate title. In 1912-13, his junior year, he was captain of the Princeton team, which was generally referred to simply as "Baker." His senior year was noted for its brilliant games, with a record of 10 wins, two losses and another intercollegiate title.

After graduation in 1914, Hobey joined the St. Nicholas hockey team, an amateur outfit which players had to pay to join. Whenever he played, the billboards read "BAKER PLAYS HERE TONIGHT," and he packed them in. As a skater, goal scorer and all-round player he outranked them all. After a series in which his team won the Ross Cup from the Montreal Stars, the Montreal Press said: "Uncle Sam has the cheek to develop a first class hockey player...who wasn't born in Montreal...but Baker cooked our goose so artistically that we enjoyed it." Nobody who saw him play could forget his exciting brilliance. He is one of the few amateurs in the International Hockey Hall of Fame. Princeton's ice arena is named after him, and St. Paul's competes for a sacred trophy—Hobey's stick.

During World War I Baker, as a combat pilot, continued his role of hero. Thousands of sports fans participated in a national day of mourning in 1918 when a plane crash forever stilled the winged athlete.