Charles Baldwin had done it all right. He picked up his first hockey stick at age 3. He joined a roller hockey team at age 5. He played Tier II travel ice hockey as a teenager. He netted a hat trick in the quarterfinals of the 2007 Tier II National Championships. In 2008, he landed a scholarship to play ice hockey at a New Hampshire prep school.
Baldwin was right on line. Playing at a top prep school in New England, he had stands full of college scouts attending his games. At age 17, the world was at Baldwin's feet.
Until he messed up.
In his second year at prep school, his junior year in 2009, Baldwin was expelled for violating school rules.
"That was probably the lowest point in my career," he says. "I lost my scholarship. Meanwhile, a bunch of my teammates committed to Division I schools."
The story could have ended there. Baldwin had the boards up against him. College scouts wrote him off, and the ice was melting on his hockey career.
But that is not who Charles Baldwin is. He never stops dreaming.
The story did not end there. Instead, it only began. Instead, Charles Baldwin played hockey again. Instead, Charles Baldwin experimented with rapping. Instead, Charles Baldwin became Chucky Slick, the most famous hockey player/rapper of all-time with songs that have more than a million YouTube hits.
And instead, he inspired hockey fans across the world.
After Baldwin's dismissal from prep school, he went home. Actually, home is a loose term for Baldwin. He was born in San Diego, but when Baldwin was 10, his family relocated to northern Virginia. While Baldwin was at prep school, his father lost his job, and the family moved back to San Diego.
When Baldwin returned to San Diego after getting kicked out of school, he had nothing. His closest childhood friends were in Virginia and prep school friends were in New Hampshire. He had nobody.
And he was without hockey.
"I thought my career was over. I messed up," he says.
For two months, Baldwin sat at home and tried to figure out his life. He barely left the house and barely spoke to anyone. Hockey had been priority number one, and now it was gone.
In January 2010, Baldwin enrolled at a local high school and began taking classes again. He had no friends at the school and no forecast of his academic life.
But hockey kept him going. In the back of his mind, Baldwin still believed hockey was in his future. He still thought his career had life.
Baldwin searched for local teams to play for. He zeroed in on a Tier III Junior A team called the San Diego Gulls in the Western States Hockey League.
"I came out for a practice, but it was mid-season, so I didn't expect much," Baldwin remembers. "But within 10 minutes, the coach pulled me aside and told me I was on the team. Next thing I know, I'm a junior hockey player."
And so began the junior hockey career of the creator of the junior hockey anthem.
Baldwin played out the season with the Gulls, while continuing to finish his junior year of high school. He found a niche in junior hockey.
"It wasn't as serious as prep school," he says. "I kind of liked it. I've always been the class clown type guy."
Baldwin wanted more. He wanted to get serious. Tier III was a good start, but he wanted to play more competitive junior hockey. He weighed offers in the Western Hockey League and the United States Hockey League, but held back. He needed a league better suited for his undersized 5-10, 170-pound frame.
Baldwin opted to try out for teams in the Tier II Junior A North American Hockey League, a league spanning the country. After attending camps with multiple teams, Baldwin thought he would be a Fresno Monster.
"I tore it up at their main camp," Baldwin says. "They said they were going to draft me with their first pick."
When the NAHL draft came over the summer, Baldwin followed it on Twitter. His name never showed up. Not next to the Fresno Monsters' name nor any other team.
"They said they'd draft me and they didn't," he says. "I sat there stuck wondering why I didn't get drafted."
Then when former NHL player Bill Muckalt, the head coach of the NAHL's expansion New Mexico Mustangs called Baldwin for a tryout, he jumped on it. He headed right for the desert.
"I went to camp, and they didn't really even know who I was," he says. "I grinded it out and by the time the tryout was over, the coach told me I made the team."
In the fall of 2010, Baldwin was a junior hockey player again.
Meanwhile, as Baldwin's hockey career budded, so did his rap career.
Baldwin attributes the birth of his rap interest to his childhood move from San Diego to Virginia. He says the hip-hop culture was stronger in the East Coast and rap was a more common interest among the friends he hung around.
The tipping point for Baldwin came in the arcade of a hockey rink.
"I was playing a game and I won an Eminem album," he says. "I'd listen to it everyday. My parents didn't like it, so I'd hide in a shoebox, so they couldn't find it. I'd come home from school, lock my door and just listen."
Baldwin started writing raps in class, at home, wherever he was. He bought a chain and a backwards hat. Despite the passion, he almost never showed his raps to anyone.
"I developed this obsession where I would just write raps," he says. "I was a little Slim Shady myself."
As he grew up, Baldwin started going to parties where friends would freestyle rap. He tried it to wing his rhymes on random beats, but he had trouble. Baldwin, whose friends called him "Master Bizzle," could not get much further than "My name is Chuck and I play puck."
"I really wanted to improve myself and get better," he says. "I loved it. Eventually, my flow got nicer."
By the time Baldwin started going to prep school in New Hampshire, he had the confidence to record. He found a few friends who also rapped and they began recording in dorm rooms. Baldwin improved his ability to create beats, and he started to record.
"I'd been writing, but I'd never heard myself on a track," he says. "It sounded pretty good."
Baldwin and his friends sent their tracks around school and classmates commended them. Then Baldwin was expelled before he could progress any further at prep school.
Back in San Diego, while Baldwin struggled to find a future in hockey or school, he did retain his rap interest. He bought some recording equipment for his bedroom and continued to write.
Rap helped Baldwin assimilate at his new high school. He recorded a mixtape for a few new friends under his new name, "Chucky Chuck." They liked it and passed it around the school.
"It spread like wildfire," Baldwin says. "And it didn't mention hockey at all. After that, I was like, well, I'm kind of a rapper I guess."
Baldwin took the success as a sign of encouragement. Upon moving to New Mexico, he bought a $400 microphone to set up his home studio. When he was not at the rink or in school, Baldwin worked on his rapping. By the time the summer came, he was ready to go public.
Along with a friend, "Dominic," Baldwin released "The West Coast" in the summer of 2011. The mixtape had a West Coast gangster rap style and featured no songs related to hockey.
"It created a lot of buzz around town," Baldwin says. "All my friends were bumping it that summer."
Baldwin also used a new rap name for that mixtape: "Chucky Slick."
"I've been exposed to so many different people in so many different places, but I've always been comfortable with the ladies," he says. "People say I have a smooth, slick approach. And people say I'm slick with a lot of things in life. Whether it's a hockey move or hanging with my buddies, people would say, 'Chuck, that was slick.' That's where the name came from."
And so, "Chucky Slick" was born.
By the time Baldwin's second year at New Mexico started in fall 2011, his world had turned around. He went from an expelled prep school player to a respectable junior hockey player in one of the nation's elite leagues.
He also had a blossoming rap career. During the first half of the season, Baldwin worked on a solo mixtape, "Medina Block." The tape was released in February 2012, and again, Baldwin's rap career took a step forward. He received good feedback from friends and teammates and made a music video. The video garnered a few thousand hits, but Baldwin wanted more.
"I wanted respect," he says. "I was thinking about what I could do to be successful. I've always had these dreams of being successful and living a great life through hockey or entertainment. I was like what can I do to get my name out there? So many people are getting famous off YouTube these days. There are so many rap songs that just have a catchy chorus, so they blow up. What can I do to make one really catchy song?
The breakthrough came while listening to a hockey-themed rap song, "Dangle, Snipe and Celly," by Sammy Ob featuring Kid Pudi. The song, which has gained a cult following among the hockey community, has more than 218,000 hits on YouTube today.
"I was like it's cool these guys made a hockey song, but I knew I could do better," Baldwin says. "Then all of a sudden it clicked in my head. I'm going to make a junior hockey anthem!"
Baldwin picked a beat that winter and went to work. There was no time for sleep. Hockey and rap. That was it.
"I'd be sitting there on 15-hour road trips at 3:00 in the morning working on the lyrics," he says. "All the boys would be listening to me as I tried to figure it out."
When Baldwin was not playing hockey, he was writing lyrics. He fumbled around with the chorus and tested lines. Baldwin did not record until he felt he had reached his full potential.
He brought the finished product, "Living the Dream (Junior Hockey Anthem)" to the rink.
"I played it in the locker room before our games and everyone was like dude, that is a hit," he says.
But when Baldwin put the song up on his music page, it did not get the quick views he expected. Baldwin didn't give up. He felt something special about this song and brainstormed other ways to publicize it.
"I was like you know what, I'm going to make a music video and put it on YouTube," he says. "I purchased a $100 camera and just started filming everything: The road trips, the locker room, everything that pertains to the junior hockey life. I wanted to show the dream."
Using his new camera and a Flip Video camera borrowed from teammate Dallas Crum (pictured below), Baldwin documented the life of his teammates and him. He uploaded his footage into Windows Movie Maker and made a film. He put his recording over it, and on March 12, 2012, "Livng the Dream (Junior Hockey Anthem)" debuted on YouTube.
"Next day, I woke up: 10,000 views. Then the next day: 30,000 views. Next thing I know, it blew up," he says. "I had like 800 followers on Twitter. Now, I'm up over 20,000."
After a few weeks, the "Living the Dream (Junior Hockey Anthem)" music video had a couple hundred thousands hits on YouTube. It surged past "Dangle, Snipe and Celly" and became a fixture in hockey culture. The video currently has about 700,000 hits.
"I had players from other teams coming up to me at faceoffs telling me they heard my video," Baldwin says. "I even had referees telling me nice job."
Crum, 20, now of the Springfield Jr. Blues, was among the teammates who helped play up the song. Baldwin's fellow Mustangs tweeted about it and watched the views rise.
"We were ecstatic for him," Crum says. "All the big hockey accounts started tweeting about it. It was cool to see all that. He's a talented guy and it was sick."
A Canadian reality TV show paid Baldwin to use the song in its credits. Gongshow Gear, a hockey apparel company, called Baldwin to make him a company ambassador. Baldwin had been wearing a Gongshow hat of his own in the "Living The Dream (Junior Hockey Anthem)" video, and now wears apparel for the company.
Despite the viral reaction, Baldwin maintained a steady head. He kept his hockey career and rap career apart.
"He played some songs in the locker room, but other than that, he kept the whole hockey and rap thing separate," Crum says. "It didn't affect him at all. It didn't change him."
The success and fame did not make Baldwin lazy in rapping. In fact, it encouraged him to work harder.
In June, Baldwin came out with another mixtape, "Ignorance is Bliss." He says this mixtape featured songs mostly about "love, trust and succeeding dreams," but it did contain one song related to hockey, "I Play Hockey."
Although Baldwin never uploaded the song to YouTube, a channel called "Skoal Dip" did so in August. The video has more 102,000 hits, despite that particular link never being promoted by Baldwin.
Baldwin did, however, upload a separate single about hockey, "Hockey Player," to YouTube in July. The video currently has more than 151,000 hits.
Baldwin admits "I Play Hockey" and "Hockey Player," two songs focusing on hockey culture, were direct results of the success of "Living the Dream (Junior Hockey Anthem)." However, he is not proud of his lyrics on those tracks.
"I made those before things took off and I was just saying that for the hockey community," he says. "All the hockey players would be like, 'Yeah!' I did that to get hockey people riled up."
In "Hockey Player," Baldwin opens by saying "I don't like basketball, I don't like soccer, I don't like baseball, I'm a hockey mother f*****." It is one of many lines he regrets writing.
"I play basketball in the summer time and I played soccer and baseball growing up," he says. "I want to generate a fan base outside the hockey world. I want people to say I listen to Chucky Slick and I don't even play hockey."
At this point, that is probably what Baldwin loves most about his life: The fans. Baldwin has made it a point not to take his support group for granted. He remembers he was once just a normal kid with a dream looking up to others. He embraces the role of role model.
"I've had kids who've said they were suicidal and depressed after losing loved ones and that my music is amazing and is the only thing that keeps them going," Baldwin says. "I've had kids tell me that my video inspired them to live the dream. They were going to quit hockey and now they're doing everything they can to play junior hockey. It's unbelievable. The impact I've had. I'm so blessed to say I've done this."
Baldwin has more than 1.46 million hits on YouTube, 25,000 followers on Twitter @ChuckySlick and 5,000 likes on Facebook. He regularly interacts with fans via Twitter, favoriting, retweeting and responding to tweets at him. Baldwin also uses Tinychat to hold massive video chats with fans. A few times a month, he uses the website to video chat with 30 fans at a time, answering questions and getting to know them.
Part of being a hockey fan is recognizing the bruised-up face, missing teeth and flowed-back hair of Chucky Slick.
"The fans keep me entertained. I still don't believe this is my Twitter," Baldwin says. "I'm happy to answer their questions and joke around. I let them know I'm just like them. I'm just a genuine guy."
Curtis Imdieke (pictured below), 21, one of Baldwin's San Diego friends, has especially noticed Baldwin's fan interaction. Imdieke believes Baldwin's relationship with fans is one of the aspects he has embraced most as a hockey community celebrity.
"He takes pictures with little kids all the time," Imdieke says. "He talks to them and does a great job. He's determined to make it as far as possible. He does it for the fans."
In the arenas, the fandom is even more real. Baldwin comes out of the locker room to crowds screaming his name whether the game is home or away. He sucks in every second of the fame and embraces the fans even when he can barely find privacy.
"We were in Minnesota this year for a game and when I came off the ice, people were asking for a picture," Baldwin recalls. "I was like yeah, no problem. I'm not going to act like I'm too good for you. I'm going to stay true to where I came from."
Crum saw the events in Minnesota firsthand. He echoes Baldwin's fan respect from an outside point of view, but he also remembers Baldwin going further with the interactions.
"Younger kids started coming up to him and asking if he was Chucky Slick," Crum says. "They were asking if they could get a picture and an autograph. He did what they asked and started asking them where they play and how much they like it. He gave them advice on junior hockey. There's a certain lifestyle for junior hockey. He kind of became the poster boy."
Baldwin claims he took somewhere between 50-100 pictures on that trip to hockey-crazy Minnesota. He cannot ignore the fame, but he also can avoid letting it changing him.
"I don't feel any differently," he says. "I don't let it get to my head. I know it's happening. I see what's going on. I see the views. I see the compliments on Twitter. At the same time, I don't feel any different. I feel like a regular kid who happens to make music."
Without a doubt, Baldwin's humility is part of his own life experiences and learning from his own mistakes. His dismissal from prep school, his grind to make it in junior hockey and his constant move of high schools are some of the events that shaped him into the individual he is today.
Baldwin's personality is also the result of a series of unfortunate incidents that happened around him. Just as Baldwin made it big in 2012, much of the world he loved was collapsing around him.
On Jan. 18, 2012, Baldwin's good friend Tyler Snoke died at the age of 18.
"He was always a huge supporter of my music," Baldwin says, "He was always telling me, 'You're going to make it big.' I told him we were going to make it together. He's one of the inspirations behind everything."
Just one day after Snoke's death, Baldwin posted "Gone But Not Forgotten (In Loving Memory of T Snoke)" on his YouTube page, a rap about his late friend.
More bad news came over the summer after "Living the Dream (Junior Hockey Anthem)" was unveiled. Baldwin lost one friend to a drug overdose and two rap buddies to a car accident. He also had a friend get into a drunk driving accident.
"Living the Dream was on the rise and all this great stuff in my life is happening," Baldwin says. "People see I'm just a happy guy, but around me, my world was crashing down."
Baldwin is not your average role model. With the roller coaster he's ridden since age 16, he has an appreciation of life most people cannot comprehend. Life is not just about him. Life is about his family, his friends, his teams, his fans, everybody. Fame has come for Charles Baldwin, but it has not done anything but make him more unselfish.
"Ignorance is Bliss" captures the emotion Baldwin lives everyday with. Although he recorded it just after gaining fame, Baldwin insists he did write songs to portray him as a superior individual, as he feels many rappers do. Instead, he poured out his heart on the tape.
"It's real. It's about love, trust and succeeding dreams," he says.
Through pictures and sometimes through lyrics, Baldwin portrays himself as a bruised-up, tough, macho hockey junkie. "Ignorance is Bliss" allowed him to show his big heart.
Friends like Imdieke knew this side of Baldwin before the mixtape.
"He's just an amazing, very humble guy," Imdieke says. "He's always trying to do good things for friends and family. He's always looking out for them."
Baldwin plans to take another step is his rap career when he releases his newest mixtape, "Gem Life" that will feature one song about hockey, but the rest will avoid the sport. He says they will be "positive, happy songs about life." Baldwin is hoping fans will see a fresh side of his rap on the new tape.
"'Gem Life' is not just a mixtape," he says. "It's a movement. Everyone is beautiful. If you're doubting yourself, that's all in your mind. You have to realize you're a beauty."
As he continues to play out the final year of his junior hockey eligibility, Baldwin has another project for the fans: a Living the Dream movie.
Last summer, Baldwin tweeted to his fans he would write another junior hockey anthem if his message got 3,000 retweets. It did, but as Baldwin began to work on the song, he felt something was not right. A new junior hockey anthem was not needed. Something else was.
Then it hit him. "Living the Dream (Junior Hockey Anthem)" showed fans a glimpse of the life of a junior hockey player. With more video, he could show them even more. It was time to make a documentary.
"I started filming everything," Baldwin says. "Literally everything. I got the camera out all the time. We're filming everything from the locker rooms to the bus to the hotels to the billet houses. All the inside jokes that go down inside the life of junior hockey."
Part of the inspiration came from "Into the Ice," a documentary following the Wenatchee Wild, a NAHL team, during the 2010-11 season. Although he considers the documentary one of his favorite videos to watch, he feels it focused too much on the serious side of junior hockey. Baldwin wants to go beyond the ice and the gym.
"I'm trying to portray the not so serious side," he says. "You put teams with people from all over the country and the world together and we become best friends. People wouldn't believe half the stuff that goes on in the locker room and the buses. I even tape the rookies when we make them sing. People will get to realize what living the dream is all about."
"Living the Dream" is currently a working title for the documentary Baldwin will shoot through the end of the season. Other names he is considering include "Inside the Life" and "The Life We Chose." Baldwin has already posted two sneak peaks on YouTube with more than 28,000 combined hits.
As another project, Baldwin is creating his own website, chuckyslick.com, which will also operate as his own business. He plans on selling Chucky Slick apparel such as shirts, wristbands and posters. Baldwin also has some Gem Life gear in the works, and he hopes to sell the documentary on his site after hockey season ends.
As for Baldwin's hockey future, he is unsure of where he is headed. The one thing he does know for sure is he will not stop playing.
"All great things don't last forever. I'm not going to be an old guy being Chucky Slick making junior hockey songs," Baldwin says. "But obviously I'm going to be playing hockey the rest of my life. Hopefully I get a college scholarship, but I also have tryouts in some minor pro leagues. I'm trying to see what my options are overseas. At the very least, I'll be playing beer leagues the rest of my life."
Baldwin says he has received multiple offers to play Division III college hockey, and he has been looked at by some Division I programs. A main factor holding Baldwin back from Division I is his GPA. As he moved from high school to high school, Baldwin had trouble keeping his grades afloat. It also did not help he suffers from attention deficit disorder, a condition untreated until his senior year of high school.
If college does not work out, Baldwin has invitations to tryout in a few American minor pro leagues. He is also considering European leagues.
Baldwin does not score the most on his team, and already at age 20, one could argue he has nearly reached his competitive hockey potential. But that means nothing to him. This is the same Charles Baldwin that has been knocked down time and time again. And each time, he gets back up.
"I have big dreams that almost seem illogical, but when you're dreaming about things in life, you're not doing it right if you're dreaming of logical things," he says. "Your dreams should be illogical. They should seem impossible because that's what drives you."
That is the message Charles Baldwin is preaching to his fans and himself. Always keep believing. Even when you're pressed against the boards, you just never know how far you can go.
So Charles Baldwin will keep dreaming. He's already living one dream that seemed impossible. Why not imagine a few more?