MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Sean Malone was feverishly pedaling the stationary bike with his head down and sweat dripping. To his right, Justin Bailey looked skyward in anguish, legs and arms pumping to keep the bike tire spinning.
The NHL scouting combine is an international event with more than 100 prospects from all over the globe, but in true “can’t go anywhere without seeing someone from Buffalo” fashion, the only two guys from Western New York ended up next to each other during the fitness testing.
“It was a little bit of competition,” Bailey said. “I didn’t want to stop before him. I think that was pretty good.”
The final league-wide scouting event before the NHL draft wrapped up Saturday, and the combine experience was fun and memorable for Western New York’s top two prospects.
“It’s definitely an experience,” said Malone, an 18-year-old from West Seneca who spent the season in the U.S. National Team Development Program. “You see all these guys here, all the same age, all working for the same thing. You want to make sure you’re working hard because you’ve got other competitors here. If you put in the work in the offseason, you can maybe get a step above some of these guys.”
The draft hopefuls entered the International Centre ready for a workout. At least they thought they were ready.
“I knew it was going to be tough, but you don’t realize until you’re here,” Malone said. “It’s that and everything. It hit me right away when I walked down.”
It doesn’t appear enjoyable. The 70-minute workout includes two bike tests, the VO2 max and Wingate, and vomit buckets are available. Out-of-shape folks need not apply.
The Wingate features players pedaling as fast as possible for 30 seconds with workers shouting encouragement. It can measure skating explosiveness.
The VO2 max is an endurance challenge. Players’ noses are blocked and a long plastic tube that measures oxygen intake is sealed over their mouths. Workers adjust the wheel tension, and the rider must maintain their RPM in a ride that can last 14 minutes.
“I’m pretty happy it’s over now,” said Bailey, a 17-year-old from Williamsville who plays for Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League. “I practiced it. We did everything like it is here. We went through all the tests. I had about a month off, so I had a good solid two weeks to really get myself a little bit stronger and a little bit more confident going into these things.”
The prospects closed the combine by testing their bodies, but they spent the first four days showcasing their minds and personalities. Bailey had interviews with scouts and management from 22 NHL teams, while Malone met with about 10.
“It’s something that I’ll remember all my life, working out, being interviewed by teams that I grew up watching,” Bailey said. “Some of them I didn’t like growing up. Some of them I loved. It’s cool.”
The Buffalo Sabres met with both of the locals. NHL Central Scouting has Bailey ranked as the 38th-best North American skater, and Malone is No. 62.
“Justin is just kind of scratching the surface as far as his potential,” Kevin Devine, the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting, said of the 6-foot-3, 186-pound winger. “He’s got a big frame, so he’s an interesting guy.
“Sean Malone, he’s a high-paced energy guy. He’s probably going to be a little bit later than Justin in the draft.”
Bailey will attend the draft June 30 in New Jersey. Malone, a 5-11, 183-pound center, isn’t sure yet.
“I talked to my adviser about it,” Malone said. “If I’m going to put on that jersey, I want it to be playing in the NHL for the first time. We’ll see how it goes.
“I’m off to Harvard next year, and I’m excited for that. That’s what I’m looking forward to right now.”
Bailey, who is finishing his final classes at Williamsville South, is eagerly anticipating his name being called by an NHL team in Prudential Center.
“It’s pretty scary,” Bailey said. “You try not to think about it too much. Everything’s out of my hands right now. No more games to be played, so I’m just going to continue to work out and keep my family close and my faith close, too, and rely on those things to help place me wherever I go come late June.”