Hockey life continues to move swiftly for Justin Bailey. It remains a ride to remember.
It wasn’t long ago that the 18-year-old was skating in tiny rinks as a midget travel player. The journey has rapidly moved through junior hockey, the NHL Draft, development camps, prospect tournaments and now training camp with the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” the Williamsville native said in First Niagara Center. “In my life it’s always been a couple steps. I’ve always handled them well, and hopefully I can continue to handle it from the OHL to the NHL.”
The opening four days of his first professional camp went well for Bailey, who is readying for his second season with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League. The fun in Buffalo may end today as the Sabres make their first cuts down from 60, but the prospect made his mark skating alongside veterans Matt Ellis and John Scott.
“He’s a heck of a hockey player,” Ellis said. “For a big kid he’s got a great skill set. He gives off a sense of confidence in his game, and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him. He seems like a good kid, a respectful kid. He does the little things well out there.
“At his stage of the game, it’s about forming good habits and working to become a good professional. I think he’s on his way to getting there.”
Bailey has been a fan of the Sabres since birth, so to share a locker room with Steve Ott and shoot on the team’s goaltenders has been thrilling.
“It’s good to get their two cents on what it took to get here, what they’re doing to stay here,” Bailey said. “They’re not as serious as you think they are. They’re hockey players, too, and it’s cool to see that.
“In the locker room, it’s fun. Obviously, everybody’s doing what they love to do. But on the rink it’s serious. Everybody has the same goal here, and the competition level is very high. I think you learn how to act like a pro, how to be a pro, and you couldn’t ask for better guys.”
Ryan Miller is still playing, so he found it a little surreal that Michigan State was ready to induct him into its Athletic Hall of Fame. After arriving on campus and recognizing it had been about a dozen years since he’d hung out at the college, he realized the magnitude of the honor.
“It was a pretty amazing experience,” said the goaltender, who rejoined the Sabres on Saturday after missing practice Friday. “Michigan State has meant a lot to our family. My grandfather came down in the 1950s to go to school there, and every decade after that a member of our family has been there going to school.
“To be inducted into the Hall of Fame after growing up going to football games, hockey games, wearing green and white, learning the fight song before I could speak properly probably, when I was able to get up and say a few words I was actually a lot more emotional than I thought I was going to be.”
Miller, his cousin Kip and former Bills coach Hank Bullough were among the five Spartans honored Thursday night.
“It was just another part of my life where I’m just kind of like, Wow, that’s really cool that that got to happen,” Miller said. “I’m just trying to be thankful and appreciate it.”
The Sabres totaled three goals in their latest intrasquad scrimmage. Ott scored twice with assists going to Ville Leino. Shawn Szydlowski also found the net.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was said to be close to NHL-ready heading into the draft, and the eighth overall pick has lived up to the assessment so far.
Fellow top prospect Mikhail Grigorenko had a tough scrimmage, whiffing on a cross-ice pass in the slot and hitting the post on an empty-net in the final minute.
“We’re going to be finding out in the next couple days how his summer went and where he’s at overall,” coach Ron Rolston said of Grigorenko.