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BAILEY'S JOURNEY TO THE NHL CULMINATES WITH DEBUT IN PHILADELPHIA

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

PHILADELPHIA Justin Bailey didn’t have it quite at rough as Daniel Catenacci when it came to receiving the news of his first career recall on Wednesday. Catenacci, who was recalled for the first time last week, said he was reamed out by his Rochester Americans coaches for a minor defensive error before they finally cracked smiles and told him the good news.

But that doesn't mean Amerks coach Randy Cunneyworth and his staff let Bailey completely off the hook.

"They were on me pretty hard towards the end [of practice]," Bailey said. "I was like 'Jeeze, I don’t know what they could be calling me in for now.' They ended up just breaking the news to me, pretty simple, and it was a special moment for me."

Bailey, a Williamsville, N.Y. native and a second-round pick of the Sabres in 2013, will make his NHL debut when the Sabres play the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. He'll do so with a small crowd of family in attendance, namely his mother and grandmother.

His mother, Karen, was the first person he called after he left the rink on Wednesday.

"It was special, it was emotional for her more than me," he said. "She got the tears out, the emotions out and then the first thing she said was, 'I'm getting a flight to Philadelphia.'"

Her reaction shouldn’t come as a surprise. When Bailey played junior hockey with the Kitchener Rangers, his mother and grandparents attended every single one of his games. Even after he was traded to Sault Ste Marie, they made the 10-hour drive twice.

Now they'll watch him not only make his debut, but with his hometown team. Bailey's own enthusiasm was evident at the morning skate on Thursday, when he was one of the first Sabres waiting to get on the ice once the Zamboni cleared.

"You want to take this all in," he said. "You're only able to do this one time, your first call-up and your first opportunity to play with the team so you want to enjoy it and have as much fun with it as you can."

Bailey, 20, has been on a bit of a hot streak in his first professional season with Rochester. He admitted his first 10 games were an adjustment – he tended to be too cautious, which he said affected his decision making – but he has since taken off.

In his last eight games, Bailey scored 11 points (5+6) for the Amerks. He ranks second on the team in goals (10) and fourth in points (23).

"I think when you're playing good hockey the points come," said Catenacci, his teammate throughout the season in Rochester. "I think it was more of a complete game. When you're young coming into the League, just like myself, you're thinking, 'I need to score tonight.' But it's very important to play a 200-foot game, be good in the defensive zone and that's why he's been good as of late."

Bylsma saw Bailey play twice in Rochester during the All-Star break. What he watched was an improvement from Bailey's lone appearance in the NHL preseason and his eyeball test matched the positive reports he'd gotten from the Rochester coaching staff over the last month and a half.

"He's starting to learn to get on pucks, hold pucks and be a presence in the offensive zone with that big, physical size," Bylsma said. "The two games I watched him, his speed up the wing and driving to the net was evident."

While Bylsma suggested that Bailey will begin the game on the fourth line, he also said that the rookie will earn opportunities to use his speed and offensive prowess on the top lines as the game goes on.

Such shuffling will occur when Bylsma makes the occasional switch to put Ryan O'Reilly on the wing with Jack Eichel – something he estimated he did six times in their last game – which, in turn, creates the need for other players to fill O'Reilly's normal spot for a shift.

Coverage on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. begins with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550. Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres.


A NEW LOOK FROM PHILLY
The Sabres have had the upper-hand on the Flyers in their first two meetings of the season, taking a 4-3 contest in overtime on Oct. 27 in Philadelphia and then winning 3-1 in Buffalo three days later. That was, however, before the Flyers had penciled rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere into their lineup.

Gostisbehere leads all rookie defensemen with nine goals and 28 points and has two goals and 12 points during his current nine-game point streak. Bylsma said his presence gives the Flyers a different look than when the Sabres last met them.

"Pretty dynamically it changes it," Bylsma said. "The mere shot attempts this guy throws at the net is pretty amazing and the speed up the ice, his jumping in, his flair, it's definitely a factor every time he steps on the ice, there's no question about that."

The Flyers are winless in their last three games, their most recent loss coming at the hands of Anaheim on Tuesday by a score of 4-1. Steve Mason will start in net for Philadelphia.


INJURY UPDATES
Bylsma confirmed on Thursday that Zemgus Girgensons' placement on injured reserve was retroactive to last Saturday, meaning the earliest he can return to game action would be on Sunday afternoon against Colorado.

Johan Larsson, despite not making the trip to Philadelphia, still has the potential to play when the Sabres host the Canadiens on Friday night.

"He's a possibility," Bylsma said. "We kept him back in Buffalo to give him the best opportunity to recover and be a possibility for tomorrow's game."

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