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Lion at the Next Level

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The 2014-15 hockey season began with Casey Bailey pulling his blue and white Penn State sweater over his shoulder pads, leading the Nittany Lions into battle in the Big 10. Bailey’s year ended with him trading one blue and white sweater for another.

The Alaska native was passed over in the NHL Draft despite a successful run in junior hockey with Omaha Lancers. Bailey ultimately joined the young Penn State team as a 20-year-old freshman in 2012, looking to develop his skills in the hopes of being discovered. 

In the Nittany Lions’ inaugural game, Bailey scored the team’s first goal in the second period of his first collegiate game. Three years later, Bailey accomplished another Penn State first when he became the first Penn State player to appear in an NHL game when he skated for the Toronto Maple Leafs last month against the Buffalo Sabres.

Bailey’s progression through the college ranks was a rapid one. He scored 22 goals and recorded 40 points this past season, boasting a plus-11 for the Nittany Lions. His performance earned him a spot on the All-Big 10 First Team as well as recognition as a Hobey Baker Award candidate as the best college player in the country.

Bailey credits Penn State’s entire hockey program, including the beautiful Pegula Ice Arena, with allowing him to develop as a player.

“The whole staff, from the trainers, coaches, equipment managers and down, it’s just a first class program that does everything it can to help develop its players,” Bailey said.

Mike McMahon, senior writer of the College Hockey News, explained that Bailey’s success and development through the Penn State program was due in part to the Lions’ emergence as a legitimate Big 10 program.

“Playing the best teams in the country like Michigan and Minnesota,” McMahon explained, “I think competing against better players makes good players better.”

After attending Calgary Flames camp last summer, Penn State coach Guy Gadowski instantly saw a change in Bailey’s game. 

“I think he just realized that he could make a living at this game and really dedicated himself off the ice,” Gadowski said. “Especially to his eating and training habits.”

His performance this past season drew interest from several NHL scouts. A phone call from Maple Leafs President and former NHL legend Brendan Shanahan was enough to convince him to sign a two-year entry-level deal with Toronto. 

Bailey signed his contract on March 21. Less than two weeks later, he was on the ice in Buffalo, playing for one of the NHL’s original six teams.

“The biggest challenge is the decision making,” Bailey said about his adjustment to the NHL. “You don’t have much time to get your head up and take a quick second to look, but you still better move the puck off your stick.”

Bailey played in six games and tallied one goal, scoring in his final appearance of the season against the Montreal Canadiens.

Bailey’s success has changed the game for Penn State hockey, says McMahon.

“When you’re recruiting kids, it’s easy to say ‘We’re Penn State.  Here’s our building. It’s gorgeous.  Here’s our facility.  We’re awesome,’ McMahon said. “But now they can say, ‘You’re going to have the potential to play and be seen by NHL teams.’”

Gadowski always believed that was the case with his program, but now Bailey offers proof.

“I think a lot of individuals who had aspirations of playing pro thought that because the program is in its infancy, wondered if we would have the ability to move them on to pro hockey,” Gadowski said. “I think that Casey Bailey answers those questions.”

With the Penn State chapter of Bailey’s hockey story written, the rookie is excited to turn the page.Penn State Casey Bailey

“I have a long way to go,” Bailey admitted. “Being here, I think I need to get stronger and get in better shape so I have confidence. That’s something you can achieve off the ice that will help me be better on the ice. I’m just trying to keep it simple and learn and develop this summer.”

He will spend the summer in Toronto working closely on skating with instructor Barb Underhill to further develop his skills. He hopes to earn a roster spot next fall.

“It’s been a first class experience from the staff down to the players,” Bailey said. “I’ve gotten unbelievable support, and I’m very happy.”

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