VOORHEES — The jersey is somewhere in Justin Bailey’s mom’s house. It can’t be hard to find because of how much it’s fueled him since he got it when he was about 10 years old.
Bailey grew up in Buffalo and was a huge Sabres fan. His best friend, Michael Hubert, was a neighbor of Danny Briere and Hubert and Bailey would play with Briere’s sons. Somewhere along the line in his childhood, Bailey was gifted a Briere jersey that he signed “See you in the NHL.”
“I was fired up about having that jersey and having him customize it like that,” Bailey said. “It’s pretty cool how much of an impact that makes.”
Briere had a 17-year career, including six in Philadelphia with the Flyers. He must’ve signed that message countless times as he autographed merchandise, right?
“To be honest, there’s not too many that I’ve written that specific sentence to,” Briere said by phone this week.
“I remember watching him play baseball as well. He was an all-around good athlete in everything he touched. He would come over with his buddy once in a while, Michael, to play with our kids. That’s where the relationship started. He had all the tools. He was gifted. Everything came naturally to him. I always followed his career everywhere he went just to keep track of how he was doing because we got to know him in Buffalo over the years.”
Bailey was drafted by his hometown Sabres in the second round of the 2013 draft. He was never able to stick. Buffalo traded him to the Flyers last month in exchange for Taylor Leier and after racking up seven points in 10 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Bailey was recalled over the weekend. He played 52 NHL games across three seasons coming into this campaign. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound winger has great hands, a scoring touch and quick foot speed for his size.
He is no longer waiver exempt so he had to go through the process in October to be sent to the AHL Rochester Americans. He cleared, which meant that 30 NHL general managers didn’t want to pick him up without giving anything in return. Bailey had gone up and down several times in his career, but this one elicited a call from Briere.
“I went through the same thing,” Briere said. “We don’t play the same way, but it’s funny how our careers, up to this point, have gone the same way.”
When he was with the Phoenix Coyotes, Briere cleared waivers to go play for the Springfield Falcons.
Just like Bailey is now, Briere was in his fourth pro season when it happened.
“He said, ‘Hey, I cleared waivers and did the same thing the same year as you. I went down and handled my business and the next time I went up was the last time I got called up,’” Bailey said. “I got a text from him when I got traded here. Danny’s been someone who’s been a big part of things around here and I definitely want to keep in touch with him for sure.”
“It’s tough because your ego takes a shot,” Briere added. “You see other players getting picked up and basically nobody wants you. I knew I could relate to him when your mind is racing 100 miles an hour and you’re thinking you’re done and you’re thinking hockey will never happen for you in the NHL. I wanted to share that with him and make sure he wasn’t going to go down there and pout, that it wasn’t the end, that there was still a lot in front of him and it was up to him to see how he would handle it.”
The conversation with Briere is something Bailey has referred to in his mind a few times this season as he put in the work to get back to the NHL once again.
He’s hoping he can follow Briere’s footsteps by making this his last recall. Especially with the Flyers expected to make moves around the trade deadline and Chuck Fletcher having acquired Bailey, he knows he’s wanted here and that this is a huge opportunity.
“I think for me it’s making sure I know things that will keep me here,” Bailey said. “Whatever my role is, making sure that I’m doing that role to the best of my ability. Obviously I’m scoring down there and I want to bring some scoring up here but at the same time there’s a level of physicality I know I’ll have to bring here, working hard backchecking, forechecking, making sure I’m getting over pucks and eating up some time in the offensive zone, making sure I’m getting over pucks and keeping it in the O-zone.”
“Really I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes an impact player for the Flyers down the road,” Briere said. “He’s got a lot of work ahead of him but I don’t think he’s afraid to put in the work. I think he wants to succeed, someone that’s gone over all the obstacles that he has over the last few years of being so close to his dream but not quite sticking there I think makes him more hungry for it. I’m excited for him and his future.”
Dave Isaac; @davegisaac; 856-486-2479; email@example.com
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When: 1 p.m., Saturday
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