They both carry intangibles relative to character, relentless work ethic and perseverance.
Three years apart in age, Sault Ste. Marie products Camaryn Baber and Calem Mangone are poised to become first-time teammates in 2021-2022 as part of the latest contending edition of the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.
Both are forwards and cut from a similar cloth as hard driven performers with plenty of heart and soul.
Baber, with a 2001 birth date, is already a proven OHL skater of 135 games over parts of three seasons, playoffs included.
Never more than a third or fourth line forward since joining the talent laden Spirit as a third round OHL priority selections draft pick in 2017, Baber has nonetheless made the most of his ice time in Saginaw with 21 goals, 39 assists, 60 points in the 135 games that he has suited up for.
Baber went from playing in 11 contests for Saginaw in 2017-2018 as a call-up from the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League to 65 games (including playoffs) in 2018-2019 to 59 more in a 2019-2020 campaign that was cut short before the start of the playoffs because of what was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (It was during Saginaw’s 17 game playoff run in the spring of 2019 that ended with a stunning home ice loss to the Guelph Storm in the seventh and deciding game of the Western Conference finals that Spirit head coach Chris Lazary referred to Baber as “our undercover MVP. He is the straw that stirs the drink for us.”)
Later, of course, would be the 2020-2021 OHL season that never was — a full year of hockey totally wiped out by COVID-19.
Ironically, Baber might not have played much — if at all — had there have been a 2020-2021 season as he underwent surgery on his left shoulder last October to repair a torn labrum. Now fully healed, Baber “will be for sure” one of Saginaw’s three overage players for the upcoming 2021-2022 season according to what Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill told Hockey News North.
Baber, in also confirming that he will return to Saginaw in the fall for his overage season, noted that his surgically repaired left shoulder “has never been better … I am doing things with it now that I have never been able to do. I have never felt this healthy.”
The grit and grind Baber added that, before surgery, he didn’t realize how damaged his shoulder was, telling Postmedia that “I was so used to the way it was, it seemed normal to me. I didn’t know any differently.”
Meantime, a mere week after taking the aforementioned Calem Mangone with the second overall pick of the first round of the 2021 OHL under 18 draft, Saginaw signed the Soo lad to a standard player contract.
And Drinkill, as the Saginaw GM, exclaimed that “as an organization, we are very happy Calem has committed to our program.
“We are beyond thrilled to be able to add a player with the skills, work ethic, and character that Calem possesses. I look forward to seeing him on the ice very soon. On behalf of our staff, we welcome Calem and his family to the Spirit,” Drinkill added.
Mangone, a 5-foot-9, 160 pound right winger with a 2004 birth date, is a graduate of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League.
The Jr. Greyhounds were part of a limited 2020-2021 season due to COVID-19, playing in only a handful of cohort exhibition matches with the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves. The year prior, Mangone had 13 goals, 11 assists, 24 points in 27 regular season games for coach Jamie Henderson and the Jr. Hounds but was bypassed at the 2020 OHL priority selections draft.
Mangone, who has already been assigned jersey no. 7 for Saginaw ahead of the 2021-2022 season, referred to being drafted by the Spirit as a “surreal moment.
“Now, signing the contract is a huge relief because playing in the OHL is something I have been working toward for a long time. Playing for a first class organization like Saginaw is a dream come true.
“The Spirit is the team I was hoping would pick me and now signing is a huge thrill. I am excited to get down to Saginaw and meet the fans and become acquainted with the community. I am looking forward to the opportunity to get on the ice with my teammates and pushing myself to become an elite OHL player,” added Mangone.
The aforementioned Jamie Henderson, as Mangone’s coach with the under 18 Jr. Greyhounds since 2019, can’t say enough about the youngster.
“When Calem didn’t get drafted last spring he didn’t lose his focus for one minute,” Henderson relayed to Hockey News North. “He had an incredible summer training and skating with the local professionals and OHL players. When he wasn’t afforded an opportunity to play at the next level (in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League) he came back to the U18 program and had a great attitude.
“He just kept getting better and he used his U18 season to gain confidence. As OHL teams began to take notice of (2005 birth year) players like Cooper Foster (of the Soo) and Alex Pharand (of Sudbury) they started to ask about Calem. He just stood out in every opportunity and he is so deserving of this honour with Saginaw. We are really excited for him and his wonderful family and we can’t wait to see him this coming season when the Spirit comes to town,” Henderson added.
To be sure, if all goes according to plan, Saginaw will line up for another run at OHL glory this coming 2021-2022 season with two Soo boys in the lineup in Baber and Mangone.
Let us just say that Soo boys have twice the Spirit.