Josh Bailey is not your typical 21-year-old. For many young adults of that age, the realities of post-college life and the impending need for instant maturity are still distant notions. But Bailey, who turned 21 on October 2, is already in his third NHL season. On skates before his memory even begins, Bailey is a hockey veteran.
“Right from the get-go, since I was a baby, I always wanted a hockey stick in my hands,” said Bailey. “(My parents) said the first thing I would say if anyone came over to visit was, ‘Play hockey. Play hockey.’”
Wherever the young Bailey looked, he saw hockey. Just as urban American streets were once transformed into stickball havens, Bailey saw a hockey rink in his own road in Bowmanville, Ontario.
“My neighbor was tarring his driveway and we had a little leftover,” said Bailey. “We talked him and my dad into putting some lines on the street and some dots and some creases, and that was kind of our hockey domain.”
The makeshift, asphalt rink provided Josh, his younger brother Jordan, and a group of his best friends a venue for their ball-hockey games.
“When we weren’t skating, we were playing ball-hockey,” said Bailey. “It led to being a better player, and it helps develop your hands, but you’re still having a great time.”
The hands that Bailey would develop during his youth would help propel him to stardom at every level of hockey he has played.
At 15, Bailey and his Clarington Toros won the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) Championship. The OMHA is the largest minor hockey association in the world, with 31 leagues under its jurisdiction. In the ensuing 2005 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Priority Selection Draft, Bailey was selected 19th overall by the Owen Sound Attack. Bailey played one and a half seasons in Owen Sound before he was traded, leaving Bailey confused.
“I thought I was safe, and was never going to get traded,” said Bailey. “I was their first-rounder the year before, and was having a good year. Next thing you know, I was in Windsor.”
Owen Sound sent Bailey to the Windsor Spitfires, in a move that undoubtedly was a turning point for the young center.
* Drafted 19th overall by the Owen Sound Attack in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection Draft
* Traded to the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) during the 2006-2007 season
* Amassed 96 points for the Spitfires during the 2007-2008 season
* Drafted ninth overall by the New York Islanders in the 2008 Entry Draft
* Made his debut on November 11, 2008 against the Philadelphia Flyers
* Scored his first NHL goal on January 2, 2009 against the Phoenix Coyotes
“It was definitely the best thing to happen to my career,” said Bailey. “There’s no question. When I went to Windsor, it was almost like instantly they made me kind of one their go-to guys, and gave me loads and loads of ice time.”
Bailey finished his second OHL season with 61 points, 35 with the Spitfires. Despite missing out on the playoffs, Bailey’s reputation among scouts was growing. The next season with Windsor would prove to be the most important year of Bailey’s life. Already graduated from high school, he wanted to concentrate solely on the Spitfires and the upcoming 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
In the middle of a season where Bailey would nearly triple his point output from the previous year (29-67-96), he and the Spitfires were confronted with a startling tragedy. Their captain, 19-year-old center, Mickey Renaud died suddenly of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare heart disease of which neither Mickey nor his family had any knowledge. The 18-year-old Bailey was now forced to cope with the death of a teammate and friend. “I think you really learn not to take life for granted,” said Bailey. “Going through that with my teammates made me a better person, and a better player I would have to say. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in my life, but we rallied around it and found a way to come together and finish off the year strong.”
After the passing of their captain, the Spitfires completed an impressive regular season, but were eliminated in the first round of the OHL playoffs by the Sarnia Sting.
With Bailey finally eligible to be drafted to the NHL in 2008, the New York Islanders traded down to select Bailey ninth overall. He signed his entry-level contract on his 19th birthday, and made the opening night roster. Bailey has proven to be a rare talent, making the jump from the OHL straight to the NHL without ever returning to his junior club or spending time in the American Hockey League. But Bailey is quick to give credit to his family for his success.
“I’m just thankful to have parents that were very supportive of everything I did,” said Bailey. “Obviously, having a younger brother helped me too. It’s almost like you become more of a leader as a person (when) you’re used to having someone younger than you looking up to you.”
Now with scores of young Islanders fans looking up to him, Bailey will try to lead the Islanders to success for years to come.