It wasn’t until 1996 that Lincoln, Neb., was introduced to ice hockey with the expansion of the Lincoln Stars in the United States Hockey League. Many young Nebraskans fell in love with the game. Among these kids was a boy named Baxter Kanter, who began playing a few years later at 4 years old.
“I fell in love with the sport right after my parents took me to a Lincoln Stars junior hockey game,” Kanter said. “I was mesmerized by the atmosphere, and it quickly became something that I looked forward to doing every weekend during the season.”
Growing up in Lincoln, Kanter played for 10 years in the Lincoln Ice Hockey Association before playing two with the Lincoln Junior Stars Junior Varsity of the Midwest Highschool Hockey League.
“My years of growing up and playing in Lincoln definitely bring back some amazing memories and shine a light on some lifelong friends that I still have,” Kanter said. “Some coaches made a big impact on my development while making sure that I never lost my love for the game.”
With hockey’s relatively low competition and exposure level in Lincoln, compared to football, basketball and volleyball, Kanter realized this when he was 16 years old and decided that he needed to get out of Nebraska to take his play to the next level.
Leaving Lincoln for the first time in his life, Kanter moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, to play for the Utah Regulators, an 18 and under AAA team. While living with a new family in Utah, Kanter began to showcase his skills across the country, accomplishing his first goal. After completing his first season, Baxter went on to play a second season with the Regulators and graduated high school in Utah.
“This was a very challenging decision for me at such a young age, but I wanted to make the most out of every opportunity,” Kanter said. “I had to chase my dream.”
Aside from learning how to live in a new state thousands of miles away from his family, Kanter had to adjust to a new level of hockey. With this came challenges, and Kanter bettered himself every day to get up to game speed.
“This was the first time that I faced significant adversity in my career as I battled to get much playing time at all,” he said. “By the end of my second season, I had taken massive steps in the development of my game, and my confidence is at an all-time high.”
During his time in Utah, Kanter started to identify his role as a power forward with his strong presence of physical play, which has ultimately led to success.
Following graduation and his last year in Utah, Kanter spent the summer of 2014 trying out for multiple junior hockey teams. After months of searching and trying out, he was offered a spot on the Battlefords North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) in Canada.
“I couldn’t have been more excited making my first juniors team and accomplishing a goal that I had been working long on,” Kanter said.
When moving to Battleford and beginning his first junior hockey season, Kanter was faced with adversity yet again. With all the expectations and pressure, he said he wasn’t producing a lot of points and knew he was at a turning point in his career. He sat down with his coach, Kevin Hasselberg, who continued to help him with his career years down the road.
“We discussed what I’m good at as a hockey player and what my intangibles were. He taught me that if I wanted to advance my career, I would need to establish my role and figure out how to become the best at it,” Kanter said.
Kanter returned to Battleford for a second season, and by then, he felt he had a decent size advantage compared to the opposing players around the SJHL.
“I decided that I wanted to play like the big guys that I got to grow up watching when I was a little kid. I wanted to be the tough guy that would make the crowd erupt after a big hit or a goal. They were my favorite players that influenced me in a very special way,” Kanter said.
And it wasn’t long before the name “Baxter Kanter” was known across the league for being one of the toughest players in the SJHL.
The four seasons playing away from home not only helped him develop better hockey skills but also life skills, Kanter said. Being on his own, he had to learn how to be responsible and take care of himself quickly.
“It was a massive sense of accomplishment to not only make it to the junior hockey level but to earn a new role, become the best at it and learn to take care of myself,” Kanter said.
As he continued to develop, he received multiple NCAA Division III scholarship offers while playing in Battleford. But when it came down to it, Kanter chose to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
But he wasn’t done there, after committing to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Kanter had already set a new goal for himself: to play professional hockey. Kanter went on to play three seasons n Stevens Point, ultimately leaving with a national championship in 2019.
Then, his dream came true. He was called up to the Huntsville Havoc of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) and played in his first professional game in January.
“Playing in my first pro game was my all-time favorite experience that I’ve had playing hockey. I look forward to spending every day of my life for the next few years making myself better to continue to climb the pro levels,” Kanter said.
Coming into the SPHL, Kanter was quick to make a name for himself. The power forward/enforcer accumulated 69 penalty minutes in just 20 games, with 45 of the minutes being 5-minute majors.
He’s not one to shy away from dropping the gloves to stand up for himself, a teammate or to turn the energy around. With nine fights in just his first couple months in the league, he already leads the SPHL in fights.
Now, due to COVID-19 and all sports being on pause, Kanter and the Huntsville Havoc’s season has come to an early end.
Looking back on Kanter’s 20 years of hockey, he is most grateful for his coaches and teammates who have taught him not only lessons on the ice but also in life and continue to be contacts for him to seek advice as life brings him new challenges. Most importantly, they are able to cherish the memories made because of hockey forever.
“From the crazy weekends in the hotel on the road back in youth hockey all the way to winning an NCAA national championship and everything in between,” Kanter said, “I look forward to using my many experiences from hockey to help me succeed in life after playing.”