Mason Baptista has won two NCAA Division III hockey championships with St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, played five full seasons as a professional hockey player, and started his own business, all by the age of 30. The modern-day renaissance man shows no signs of slowing down as he balances his professional hockey career with entrepreneurship, through his company BapsHockey.
BapsHockey was born during Baptista’s time at St. Norbert, a private liberal arts college in De Pere, Wisconsin, right outside the better-known Green Bay. The aspiring professional athlete spent most of his offseasons in the generally chilly Wisconsin tundra, and during that time, developed a love of educating the next generation. It started with two kids looking to improve their skills, and BapsHockey’s mission statement came into focus after that defining moment.
“You want to get every player the ability and opportunity to compete, excel and dominate at the next level,” Baptista said of his creation. “That’s the mission, to give the players opportunities.”
There’s no shortage of hockey interest in Wisconsin. With a strong high school system, the nearby Green Bay Gamblers and Madison Capitols of the USHL, St. Norbert College, a regular Division III powerhouse, and the obvious lynchpin of it all—the Wisconsin Badgers—hockey is a real cultural institution in America’s Dairyland, so it was the perfect place for Baptista to launch his company.
The championship pedigree with the St. Norbert Green Knights is apparent. Under head coach Tim Coghlin, who has been at the helm of the St. Norbert program since 1993, the team has reached the Division III Tournament 19 times, the Frozen Four 12 times, and won the championship five times. As mentioned prior, two of them were with Baptista on the squad. Being part of that culture gave Baptista the chance to be a strong player, and develop as a strong educator as well.
“Mason came in as a bit of an old soul, we knew right away that he had a different mentality about himself; he’s very respectful, very honest, very humble, and very reflective,” Coghlin said. “If you look at the growth of his game, him as a player, between playing as a junior player in Ontario, to playing as a senior here, two championships, playing with high-end, high quality guys, you see a path forward at Division III, and he ran with it.”
“He helped me work my hockey camps over the summer. He was a lead instructor,” Coghlin continued. “He commanded that respect when he was on the ice. He wanted more. He wanted to give more. I’m not surprised that this is the path he has taken.”
Even now, some of Baptista’s ideas about nutrition, sleep, and other processes to gain a competitive edge, are in place at St. Norbert. That is the kind of respect he has garnered from the longstanding coaching staff.
Fast forward from his graduation from St. Norbert in 2015 to now, and Baptista has 315 professional games of experience to draw back on to prepare the course structure for BapsHockey. Those 315 games come from a short stint in the city of Moline, Illinois with the now-defunct Quad City Mallards, time with the Wichita Thunder, three and a half seasons with the Fort Wayne Komets, and even time spent with EHC Freiburg, nestled on the Rhine River in southwest Germany. Most recently, he spent his first season in Greenville as a player/assistant coach, the first time in his professional hockey career that he held this role.
On the bus, in the locker room, or at home, you will never see him far from his iPad Pro and his Apple Pencil, drawing up new drills, skill development points, all in his meticulously neat handwriting. He dons the “BH” logo with a hat on at all times, no matter the time and place.
“I’m big on structure,” Baptista explained. “But there’s a lot of freedom for when I have an idea, whether it’s on the bus or before games, after practice—I’ll just jot notes down. Some of them will come to me, and some will happen organically.”
His Instagram page, @BapsHockey, routinely features the namesake with video breakdowns of the best players in the NHL, how they anticipate plays, or how they use their skating or hockey sense to find the soft areas in coverage. For example, one breakdown dissected Buffalo Sabres star forward Jack Eichel taking the puck to the net against two defenders, rather than peeling off for an easy backhand shot from the outside. He continues to utilize social media to drive awareness of his business, and shares short video clips to appeal to the dwindling attention spans of BapsHockey’s target generation.
The videos that he shares all tasty morsels of food for thought for hockey players of all ages and skill levels. All of his breakdowns include discussions on developing Hockey IQ, or the ability for hockey players to make better decisions in the moment through instinct. It’s about the software, not the hardware, Baptista says. That is how he looks to serve players hungry for info—with detailed video analyses and action plans for each player looking to improve that software within.
Software may be important, but Baptista also wants to protect the most important hardware—his brain. His iPhone screen is completely red. He wears blue blocker computer glasses. Baptista takes his health seriously. His teammates consistently ask why, or how they can get their phone to look like that.
“I used to wear these glasses five years ago, and people would ask me ‘What is wrong with you?’” Baptista laughed. “Now they’re the ones wearing the glasses. The red light allows the cells in your whole body to recover and work efficiently. It helps you take care of your sleep.”
Sleep equals performance, Baptista went on to further explain, and he couldn’t take time off from being an educator in the moment. A compelling, self-described “questioner by trade,” he does his research into anything people bring up to him as something that could perhaps better himself, or his business.
That educator’s mentality helped him transition into player/assistant coach in Greenville. He always made himself available before and after practice. Players like Adam Rockwood, Patrick Bajkov, Liam Pecararo, Jimmy Soper and Travis Howe all made sure to ask for assistance and better their game. Each of them saw a jump in production and consistency.
“Baps is awesome,” Pecararo said. “He helped me examine my game through video clips, and his feedback was something I always looked forward to because his opinion, his way he looks at the game, and the way he critiques is different. It was very helpful [for me].”
“He helped me a lot, before every practice and morning skate, after every practice, and we were roommates on the road too. Every aspect of the game, any questions I had, he always helped me out. He helped me work on my skills. I can’t give him enough credit for that.” Soper said. “His work out of the corners and at the front of the net really helped my game and become more of an impact player. That’s a part of the game I want to be great at to stick at this level.”
Baptista’s presence also helped the coaching staff out over the past year, mostly as a mediator.
“Mason is a student of the game. He’s very articulate, very smart, and he has a way of getting things through to players,” head coach Kevin Kerr, said. “He understood the things that we were looking to do as a coaching staff and was able to relate to our players.”
Kerr knew the importance of having a player-coach, having served in the role himself with the Flint Generals and the Elmira Jackals. He even won a championship in that dual role in 1996 with Flint. It was during that time that the bench boss figured out coaching a team was for him.
“I hope he does a little bit of both coaching independently and coaching a team. He is very well-rounded knowledge wise,” Kerr continued. “Mason is very good in the skills development part, the analytics part. Those are his focuses. He can break down a lot of different skills. He can break down systems and details.”
All of Baptista’s experience has culminated into a polished product—BapsHockey. His video analysis tiers, in-depth development plans, off-ice skills programs and videos, and Hockey IQ programs all look to change the way players develop their games for the new generation of hockey.
“The time off [from the coronavirus] has given me time to finish up my first course, and I’m close to finishing up the advanced level course,” Baptista said. “It’s giving me time to reevaluate the mission and how well I’m doing it.”
Overall, Mason knows where he wants the business to go.
“We want to change the way players develop their game. There’s overdevelopment in skill, and we forget that everything starts in the brain,” Baptista said. “Hockey IQ is what separates players from good and great and elite, and then just average. You can develop this.”
It begins and ends with callousing the mind. Being strong in the face of failure. Recognizing strengths and weaknesses and targeting ways to be better every day. Baptista lives his truth. His truth is his business, informed through experience.