Tarek Baker convinced himself to take time to weigh his options but deep down he knew what the outcome was going to be.
Coach Tony Granato told University of Wisconsin men's hockey seniors that there would be a spot for them if they wanted to use the extra season of eligibility the NCAA provided because of the pandemic.
"For me, it was more so why would I want to leave this place?" Baker said. "The facilities, the coaching staff, the players — this is NHL-caliber right here."
There was a bonus waiting for the Verona native that was unveiled on Thursday: He'll be the Badgers' captain in the 2021-22 season.
He'll be the first Madison-area product to lead UW since Adam Burish in the NCAA championship season of 2005-06. That's a meaningful connection to Baker, who wears No. 16 in part because that's what Burish sported with the Badgers.
"I'm just more proud of the fact that the guys in the locker room and the coaching staff have this belief in me, to wear the 'C' with honor and pride," Baker said. "That's really the biggest thing for me."
Fifth-year senior defenseman Tyler Inamoto will stay an alternate captain next season, and senior forwards Roman Ahcan, Brock Caufield and Dominick Mersch will join him.
Baker, Inamoto and defenseman Josh Ess all decided to extend their stays with the Badgers. Senior forwards Ty Pelton-Byce and Linus Weissbach signed pro contracts along with goaltender Robbie Beydoun. Jason Dhooghe decided not to return.
Inamoto and Ess were fifth- and seventh-round NHL draft picks of Florida and Chicago, respectively. Baker was a free agent who has been to NHL development camps in previous offseasons.
Baker, 24, was the Badgers' third-line center and part of the second power-play unit last season, when he had three goals and 12 points in 27 games. He missed four contests because of COVID-19 protocols.
He was an alternate captain in the player leadership group led by Ty Emberson that was lauded for installing a more positive culture. Ahcan said UW players voting Baker captain was a "no-brainer."
"I just think that he does all the right things on and off the ice, and that's what our team needs right now," Ahcan said.
Thursday was a big day for Baker academically, too: He finished his final presentation for a Life Sciences Communication degree. He said he'll apply to enter the graduate program in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.
On the ice, he'll be a valuable presence as a veteran center after the departures of Pelton-Byce and Dylan Holloway.
"I think over the four years I've understood where my game's at now, especially with last year," Baker said. "So for me it's more so just being able to dial in on the little things of being a great faceoff guy, being able to play against top lines, being good on the (penalty kill). And then when those other opportunities arrive of maybe touching power play or something, try to make the most of it."
Look back on State Journal coverage of Badgers men's hockey games in the 2020-21 season
Read stories from University of Wisconsin men's hockey games in the 2020-21 season.
Bemidji State was the aggressor from the beginning and kept UW from playing the brand of hockey it has used to generate scoring chances.
The Badgers paid for a lackluster effort in the second period as the Gophers beat UW for the first time in six championship-round games.
Cole Caufield scored his 27th goal of the season 6 minutes, 50 seconds into the extra session to send the fifth-ranked Badgers past the Nittany Lions 4-3 on Monday in the Big Ten semifinals.
Cole Caufield scores twice to give the Badgers a 2-1 victory at Michigan State and the Big Ten title on the final day of the regular season.
Robbie Beydoun, playing in his home state, makes 28 saves as the Badgers keep the heat on Minnesota in the chase for the Big Ten title.
If a 7-0 victory against Ohio State at LaBahn Arena was Cole Caufield's last time playing at home for the Badgers, it was the kind of effort UW fans will want to remember him by.
Holloway scored twice on the power play to lead the Badgers past the Buckeyes.
Ty Pelton-Byce scored twice for the Badgers, including the tying goal with 26.8 seconds left after UW let two third-period leads slip away.
Coach Tony Granato went down the lineup in handing out individual laurels for good chances created, hits dished out or composed plays in the defensive zone.
The Badgers erase the sour taste of their largest loss of the season with their first victory at Michigan in their past eight tries.
A four-goal second period by the Wolverines was the difference after the Badgers took the lead.
No. 11 UW is alone atop the conference standings after completing its first series sweep at Minnesota in 12 years with an emphatic 8-1 victory against the second-ranked Golden Gophers.
Cole Caufield broke a tie with seven minutes remaining and Dylan Holloway figured in two goals in the following 2:18 as Wisconsin beat Minnesota 4-1.
Cole Caufield scores two goals for the second straight game and Linus Weissbach records his first three-point game of the season.
Robbie Beydoun stopped 19 shots for his second shutout of the season.
After falling behind 3-0 in the first period, the Badgers couldn't pull all the way back with a late push.
The Badgers scored two power-play goals to win at Penn State for the first time in five tries.
A third-period penalty kill was "probably the biggest five minutes of our season so far," Badgers coach Tony Granato said.
UW freshman Cameron Rowe makes 11 saves for his first shutout.
The Badgers outshot the Gophers but paid the price for turnovers, a slow line change and a bad penalty.
Beydoun made 35 saves as the Badgers knocked off the Gophers in their first game since Dec. 4.
Cameron Rowe made 40 saves in his first collegiate start as the Badgers split a series at the Buckeyes.
The Badgers have lost all three games since four forwards became unavailable due to COVID-19 protocol.
Sophomore Jax Murray scored his first two collegiate goals for the Sun Devils as the Badgers fell to .500.
The Badgers were missing five forwards, one of whom sources said was held out because of a positive COVID-19 test and three others who were close contacts.
Caufield had his second hat trick for the Badgers and Tarek Baker scored a key short-handed goal.
Robbie Beydoun made a career-high 49 saves for the Badgers.
Missing their top two centers, the Badgers nearly emerged with a split against the sixth-ranked Wolverines.
The Wolverines scored three times in the final 5 minutes, 22 seconds of the second period to turn a deficit into a two-goal lead going into the intermission.
Dylan Holloway's third-period goal put the Badgers ahead for good after they lost two-goal and one-goal leads.
Linus Weissbach helped provide the offense and Robbie Beydoun was a stable presence in goal in the Badgers' 2-0 victory over No. 20 Notre Dame.