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The dream is real: Casey Bailey made his NHL debut

  • Author: Doyle Woody
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 26, 2015

Everything happens fast in the NHL -- shots, passes, decision-making, mistakes, recoveries -- and Casey Bailey's rise to the world's best hockey league came in a hockey heartbeat.

Just one week removed from attending classes and playing for Penn State, Bailey on Thursday night made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs and became the 15th Alaskan to play in the league.

Bailey, 23, skated 15 shifts, logged 11 minutes, 49 seconds of ice time in a 4-1 home loss to the Florida Panthers and furnished a plus-1 rating -- he was on the ice for linemate Sam Carrick's first career goal. The Anchorage native even earned 46 seconds of power-play time.

"It was awesome,'' Bailey said by cellphone from Toronto. "I'm still kind of living in the moment. It's kind of surreal.''

A year ago, current Alaska Aces winger Justin Johnson of Anchorage made his NHL debut for the New York Islanders and said the impact of the moment hit him when he was stretching in pregame warm-ups, turned his head and saw New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, a future Hall of Famer, stretching at center ice.

Bailey, a winger, described a similar moment when he came across an opponent who is the fifth-leading scorer in NHL history.

"I'm skating in warm-ups and Jaromir Jagr is sitting there stretching at the red line,'' he said. "I can relate to JJ's experience.''

Bailey's mother Dawn, older sister Jessica and older brother Kyle were all in attendance at Air Canda Centre. His father, Glen, is on a previously scheduled mission in Africa.

Bailey said he was a bit nervous during the hours leading up to the game. He said the realization his dream was coming true hit home when he walked into the Maple Leafs' dressing room and saw his No. 37 game jersey hanging in his stall.

Bailey's plus-1 rating came when he was on the ice for the first career goal by Carrick, a former Idaho Steelhead in the ECHL, the minor league that includes the Aces.

"Being on the ice for a goal was pretty special,'' Bailey said. "Other than seeing Jagr and the whole experience, that was probably the most special thing. I didn't get an assist, but being on the ice, I felt like I contributed.''

Bailey last week parlayed his 22-goal, 40-point junior campaign for the Nittany Lions into a two-year deal that this season pays him a pro-rated $900,000. He became the first Penn State player to ascend to the NHL -- the Nittany Lions' varsity program has been around for just three seasons under former UAF bench boss Guy Gadowsky.

Coveted as a free agent, the undrafted Bailey had his choice of NHL teams. Toronto is in rebuilding mode, which presumably will open more opportunities for young players like Bailey.

Bailey is one of five Alaskans, all from Anchorage, currently playing in the NHL. Scott Gomez is a center with the New Jersey Devils, Matt Carle plays defense for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brandon Dubinsky is a center with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nate Thompson is a center with the Anaheim Ducks.

Toronto, which has been eliminated from playoff contention, has seven more games remaining, including one each against Carle's Lightning and Dubinsky's Blue Jackets.

Bailey became the fifth Alaskan to make his NHL debut without previously playing in the minor leagues.

Other than losing, Bailey said he thought his debut went well.

"I didn't jump over (the boards) for the first shift and fall on the ice, so that was a positive,'' he joked.

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