Penn State Hockey Star Casey Bailey’s Rise To Stardom
It’s wintertime in a cold Alaskan town, and a young boy just got his first hockey stick. He just took his first steps onto a sheet of ice with his dad and his brother and birthed a brand new hobby. The hobby will evolve into a passion that will never stop, and will get the boy more national recognition than he could have ever guessed.
Now it’s Jan. 7, 2015, and the season’s Hobey Baker candidates were just announced. Sure enough, there is the now grown-up Casey Bailey, the humble goal-scorer who has come a very long way to earn the distinction.
He was born on Oct. 27, 1991 to Glen and Dawn Bailey. Along with his brother, five years his senior, Casey Bailey had a very supportive family that would fuel his passion for hockey.
“Being from Alaska, winter sports are the focus there. My family specifically [got me into hockey], my dad played a little bit, but my brother was one of my biggest role models growing up, I kind of just followed in his footsteps with hockey,” Bailey said. “Pretty much when I was walking I was wearing skates.”
[pullquote]My family specifically [got me into hockey], my dad played a little bit, but my brother was one of my biggest role models growing up, I kind of just followed in his footsteps with hockey. Pretty much when I was walking I was wearing skates.”[/pullquote]
His older brother, Kyle, always wore No. 25 growing up, and was the inspiration for Casey to take that number as well.
At age 18, it was time to depart from his homeland. Bailey moved on from his local youth teams to the British Columbia Hockey League’s Alberni Valley Bulldogs, where he stayed for two seasons. His first year in Canada proved rather successful, posting decent offensive numbers while his team made it to the conference finals. The next season, alongside current Nittany Lion Connor Varley, Bailey put up 58 points in 60 games. His new offensive prowess wasn’t enough to carry his team past the first round, however, as the Bulldogs were bounced from the playoffs by way of a sweep.
His career in the BCHL came to an end after that season. He was picked in the third round of the United States Hockey League’s draft by the Omaha Lancers. The USHL is one of the best junior hockey leagues in the world, but the increased talent of his competition didn’t slow Bailey down. He spent one season in Omaha and posted 60 points in 60 games, then added two goals and two assists in four playoff games.
“It was definitely eye-opening for me, that first season in the BCHL. I had a lot to do to work on my body. The junior career is a physically demanding season, but it was a great experience for me,” Bailey said. “Without those three years in all those leagues, I wouldn’t be the player I am now.”
Having taken in what junior hockey had to offer him, he was ready to take the next step in his hockey career. Three months after his last game with the Lancers, Casey Bailey stepped onto campus at University Park. He had made a name for himself in the USHL and had tons of options, but his decision about picking his next team came down to coaching and facilities – some of Penn State’s biggest strengths in recruiting.
“I was very fond of [head coach] Gadowsky. I knew Alaskans that played for him when he was in Fairbanks and they’ve had nothing but good things to say about him. When they brought me in on a visit I fell in love with the campus. They actually gave me one of those virtual tours and walked me through the [not yet built] arena. From just that, I hands-down was coming here,” Bailey explained.
[pullquote]”When they brought me in on a visit I fell in love with the campus. They actually gave me one of those virtual tours and walked me through the [not yet built] arena. From just that, I hands-down was coming here.”[/pullquote]
The state-of-the-art arena that was promised wasn’t ready for action yet, so Bailey was a part of the team that retired Greenberg Ice Pavilion and began its transition to the national scene. In the first game of the season, Casey Bailey scored his first goal of many as a Nittany Lion, and the first in Penn State Division I history.
Taylor Holstrom, who is a grade ahead of Bailey, spent time on his line that season. In a bout of righteous foreshadowing, the duo put up career-high statistics that stood until two seasons later when they were reunited.
Penn State’s first Division I season ended with the barely-sub-.500 record of 13-14-0. The freshman Bailey posted a characteristic point-per-game clip, finishing with 14 goals and 13 assists. Both of those numbers were good enough for second on the team, while his point total was the team’s highest mark.
Any questions about Bailey’s talent were quickly being erased. He had an illustrious youth hockey career before taking the next step to the BCHL. After playing well there, he took another step forward into the USHL, where he once again had no trouble finding the back of the net. After that, he put up very convincing point totals as a freshman in the NCAA’s highest level of play. It was time for even bigger names to get involved.
On July 3, 2013, the Boston Bruins announced the names of the players invited to their development camp. Casey Bailey accepted his invitation and was one step closer to the best league on the planet.
With the awesome experience in the back of his mind, it was time to get back to work for his school and his current team. Pegula Ice Arena was open for business, and with it was the brand-new Big Ten Hockey Conference. The following season was chock full with “firsts” and was filled to the brim with exciting experiences, including the birth of the Roar Zone and “Hockey Valley.”
Were it not for the new rink and the naturally electric atmosphere that Penn State students, alumni, and fans create, the season was actually more of a forgettable one. The Nittany Lions were visibly less experienced than their Big Ten counterparts. Teams like Minnesota and Michigan are simply traditional powerhouses, and Penn State reminded everyone that it wasn’t via an 8-26-2 record. Eric Scheid led the team with 20 points in 36 games, while Bailey only mustered 9 goals, 4 assists, and a scary -21 in the plus/minus department. Still, the National Hockey League believed in him, and he spent the next summer at the development camp of the Calgary Flames. There, he continued to impress, especially in the camp-wide scrimmage.
“It’s great to get that experience. You’re playing with their draft picks and guys that they’re interested in. I picked up a lot from both camps. My first year, I kind of realized the speed [of the NHL]. It gives you confidence to go out there and play with those guys,” Bailey recalled. “Last year, there was a [fourth-overall NHL draft pick] in Sam Bennett, and you get to see where you lie with those kind of players and it gives you confidence when you’re out there competing. You see that it’s just a couple steps away.”
With another NHL camp in the books, Bailey turned his head back to college hockey. The hard work definitely paid off. According to Bailey, the struggles of the previous year resulted directly in this year’s success.
“I wasn’t happy with my season last year, and I really wanted to make something happen this year,” Bailey said.
Earlier this season, Bailey had the rare opportunity to play in front of friends and family during the Brice Alaska Goal Rush. Despite a tie against Alaska Anchorage and a 4-3 loss to No. 19 Alaska Fairbanks, the experience was one that Bailey won’t soon forget.
“It was incredible,” he reflected. “I was actually six hours away [from home in Anchorage], but I still had about 20 family and friends makes the trip. For them to make such a short travel and be able to watch me was awesome. Getting to play in Alaska was exciting.”
The 15-7-4 team’s offensive leader with 19 goals and 14 assists, Casey Bailey has destroyed his old personal records. With Bailey and David Goodwin flanking old acquaintance Taylor Holstrom, Penn State’s top line has proved time and time again that it is one of the most dangerous trios in college hockey.
“They’re both little balls of energy. They’re small but they’re fiery. They’re great to play with. Me and Holstrom, we had some chemistry built from my freshman season when we played together, and Goodwin and I have been getting better together every game,” Bailey said. “I think we have great chemistry, we’re not really skilled guys who try to do too much, but we just push the puck forward, we get it to the net, we find each other, and we shoot the puck.
[pullquote]“They’re both little balls of energy. They’re small but they’re fiery. They’re great to play with,” Bailey said of his top-line teammates.[/pullquote]
For more evidence of their success, look no further than the first game of the Ohio State series on Jan. 10. The Nittany Lions trailed the Buckeyes 4-0 with 17 minutes left to play, but the relentless top line decided that they weren’t ready for the game to be over. David Goodwin scored a goal to complement Casey Bailey’s overtime-forcing hat trick. Although Ohio State ultimately prevailed 5-4, the fact that the line combined for four-straight third-period goals speaks volumes of their collective talent and drive.
The week before the Ohio State series was another historic one for Penn State hockey. Bailey and Holstrom found the national spotlight faster than the pair’s trademark one-timers find the back of the net as they became the first pair of Nittany Lions to be nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the best player in college hockey by way of fan vote. At the time of writing, Bailey is in sixth place in the poll found here.
The sudden success of Penn State came as a surprise to most people, but the program knew that championship potential was closer than it seemed. Having Hobey Baker nominees was also a shock for most, but the players believed in themselves.
“Personally, I didn’t see myself having this much personal success,” Bailey began to explain, but paused. “No, I don’t like to say that. I’ve always had confidence in myself. I played in the USHL, in my 20-year-old season, and that’s supposed to be the best junior league you can play for besides Major Junior. I did well there. I’ve gained confidence. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve been able to put the puck in the net. I’ve always had confidence in myself.”
With the Big Ten Tournament and a hopeful NCAA Tournament berth beginning to rear their heads, the team’s focus is solely on the postseason. However, the national spotlight has caused some other thoughts about the future to pop into Bailey’s head.
“I want to stay to help this team do big things, but at the same time, if I was to leave and something big was to happen for me, that’s good for the program. That’s intriguing to other prospects coming in: ‘They moved a player on.’ Either way it’s exciting, and right now my main focus is that I want to do something this year,” Bailey said. “I don’t want to wait until my senior year to win a national championship, it’s still a possibility this year. It’s a dream of mine to play in the NHL someday, if it’s next year, if it’s five years from now, it’s something that I’m always going to work toward until my hockey career’s over.”
[pullquote]“It’s a dream of mine to play in the NHL someday, if it’s next year, if it’s five years from now, it’s something that I’m always going to work toward until my hockey career’s over.”[/pullquote]
“Casey’s done a great job of managing expectations. There are a lot of NHL scouts following him and following us in the last couple weeks,” assistant coach Keith Fisher said. “Casey loves playing, it’s great to watch him compete hard Fridays and Saturdays. He loves scoring goals. He loves wearing the Blue and White every Friday night and Saturday night, so he’s doing a great job and he’s focused on this team, this year. He wants to win a championship here.”
The 23-year-old has already been to two NHL camps, nominated for the Hobey Baker, and has dominated his competition on the ice all season. There’s a decent chance that he’ll hear his name called at the NHL Draft in July, despite having one year left of eligibility in college. No matter where Bailey ends up, his legacy at Penn State has already been cemented as that of an all-time great. That doesn’t daunt the young man from Alaska, however.
“I just want to see myself go as far as possible. It’s hard to predict exactly where I’ll be, and right now I’m honestly taking it a game at a time to see how this year goes, and go from there.”
Photo: Mark Selders/GoPSUsports.com
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