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Bailey Brightens Days with Buddy Program

by Andrew LeRay / New York Islanders
For most players, the summer months are a time to recuperate after a long, grinding season.  Battered and bruised, the offseason is used for relaxation in the form of golf, leisurely skates, and time with the family.  However, Josh Bailey’s mind was elsewhere this past summer.  He spent countless hours developing his strength and skill on the ice, and participated in numerous off-ice endeavors to improve his relationship with the Long Island community.  With the help of his mother, Bailey came up with an idea to reach out to the less fortunate youth of Long Island by treating them to Islanders games at Nassau Coliseum.

“It’s not like I’m the first one that’s ever done something like this,” said the humble Bailey.  “But I figured it would be something that I could do to help out the community.”

After bringing the idea to Islanders Community Relations Manager, Ann Rina, the Bailey’s Buddies program was born. 

“We talked about it at the start of the year,” said Bailey.  “We had a little meeting about what groups of kids we wanted to bring out.”

At each Islanders home game this season, a different Bailey’s Buddy has the opportunity to experience an NHL hockey game in a truly special fashion.  Before the year began, Bailey bought two season tickets, which are given to the Buddy and their chaperone.  Prior to the game, the child is able to stand in the Islanders High-Five area and greet the players as they walk from the locker room onto the ice for warmups.

Bailey’s Buddy is then escorted to their seat adjacent to the Islanders tunnel, allowing them to see the players on their way on and off the ice.  When the final horn sounds and the game has ended, the Buddy is able to go back to the High-Five area where they have the chance to personally meet Bailey.

“After the game, I come out and talk to them for a while,” said Bailey. “I usually bring them into the dressing room and show them around a little bit.  They meet some of the guys, get some autographs, get a Bailey t-shirt and some other merchandise.”

The Bailey’s Buddies program reaches out to a number of organizations on Long Island that care for ill or disadvantaged youth.  Past Bailey’s Buddies have come from Big Brothers Big Sisters, Winthrop University Hospital, Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center Stony Brook University Medical Center and Unlimbited Possibilities, a support group for children who are missing limbs.

“There have been less fortunate kids that have come out,” said Bailey.  “Anything that gets their mind off of what they’re dealing with and gets them to come experience a hockey game.  There have been a few kids that have never been to a game.  It’s kind of hard to believe that they’ve never been to, or even seen, a game.”

As a child in Canada, Bailey was exposed to hockey as a toddler.  He was surrounded by his loving and supportive family and had every opportunity to advance his career.  He is mindful of the fact that some young hockey fans on Long Island do not have the same opportunities he was afforded and is proud to play a part in their lives.  Many of the Buddies have taken advantage of the opportunity to speak with Bailey, who preaches the importance of hard work

“It would be kind of cool if it gets one of them into it,” said Bailey.  “Down the road it would be kind of fun if they were a pro hockey player.”

Earlier this season, Bailey was unexpectedly sent to the Islanders’ minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, on a conditioning assignment.  Despite missing 10 Islanders games between Nov. 24 and Dec. 18, the Bailey’s Buddy program continued uninterrupted.  Islanders forward Matt Moulson took over the duties normally fulfilled by Bailey until he returned from Bridgeport.  Some young Bailey’s Buddies even filmed short “Thank You” videos while at the game.  Bailey has met each Bailey’s Buddy this season, whether it be in person or via DVD.

“Josh has stood out amongst his teammates,” said Rina.  “No one else has a program like he’s doing, taking the time after every game – good or bad – to speak to the kids.”

As the 21-year-old Bailey continues to improve his skills on the ice, his maturation off it has become not only obvious, but commendable.  The whirlwind season has perhaps left many Islanders fans disappointed.  But for the Bailey’s Buddies, the season could not be more special.

“It will be something that I do every year for sure,” said Bailey.  “It’s been great this year.  When you see the look on the kids’ faces – I think even some of the parents are so appreciative, so happy.  It definitely makes you feel good.”
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