This year's Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, arguably the most prestigeous hockey competition in the under-18 category, was a disappointment for Team USA. Even though the Americans have an elite national team development program, they were able to produce just one, one-goal victory over Slovakia and three defeats in the group stage. Whatever the cause was, the offense still worked pretty well, which we could see in the game with Finland that ended 8-6 for Suomi.
Besides Adam Erne, the leading point-scorer for the "Stars and Stripes“ at the tournament, one of the best performances for Team USA was posted by a big yet skilled power forward, Justin Bailey, who is from the Buffalo, New York area. Although he's not generally considered a top-round prospect, one day he might develop into a solid NHL forward not only thanks to his size, but also his obvious hockey IQ. In addition, Bailey has the ability to produce points on the power-play or turn the puck over on a forecheck.
HF spoke with Bailey at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
Hockey's Future: What do you think went wrong in the group stage of this tournament?
Justin Bailey: I think we came out strong as a team and then started to get away from what coach told us to do. However, tonight, you could see in most of the second and third periods we were better [than Finns], but as soon as we started to get away from our system again, they executed. Then we had less than five minutes to score three goals and that's tough to know.
HF: Anyway, what are your feelings of playing at such an anticipated tournament?
JB: I think it's amazing right from that day when they picked the team. Butterflies went into my stomach, but it's great to represent my country. I'm proud to have this opportunity and play at such a high level.
HF: Can you talk about your goal that you scored against Russia? It was the first one for your team here in Břeclav.
JB: That was a power-play goal and even though I don't recall it exactly, I remember that it was a great feeling, it got us all started and got our team rolling. It was just a great feeling representing USA Hockey and score the first goal.
HF: A lot of animosity was on the ice tonight. Do you prefer emotional or calm games?
JB: This was actually a good game, there was a lot of goals (14), a lot of opportunities. We almost got back up to tie it up at five, so I'd say this game was fun even though the outcome isn't the best, but definitely an exciting game.
HF: You're obviously a big forward with good skating. However, how would you describe your style of play?
JB: This tournament has changed my world a bit, which is what I'm fine with. The coaching staff put me in as more of a power forward and made me use my body a lot, placed me in front of the net on powerplays. I used to be more of a shooter and a point-producer, but here I've learnt a lot about myself, how to use my body, big size and speed to my advantage.
HF: If you had to pick an NHL player to compare yourself to, who would it be?
JB: I like Jordan Staal and his brother Eric, who are two big, physical guys that can get their noses dirty, but also score goals. They are good finishers and power-play players. I'd say I like those two most, but I also work on my one-timer like Steven Stamkos, but he's a little bit more different.
HF: You spent the last season with the Long Island Royals of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League, which isn't exactly where we'd expect to find a talent like you. Why did you choose to go that way?
JB: The year before [I went there], I had a shoulder surgery and I was drafted by the Indiana Ice into the USHL, so I could've gone and played there, but the opportunity of going on Long Island came with Pat LaFontaine being a coach of that team, so I thought it would be good for me to get a little bit stronger and bigger. The hockey in the AYHL is obviously not as good as in the USHL, but it was a good year to develop and learn the game.
HF: And what about the feeling of being coached by such a legend?
JB: It was good. I actually lived with him and it was great to be able to ask him questions every day and know that he's been there, he's done that and that everything I can ask him, he can relate to. So, it was definitely good to live with him and I also learnt a lot from Steve Webb, who is our assistant coach and he told me a lot of things about the game that I didn't know, the real insight and details of everything. It was just a huge learning experience for me.
HF: Now, you're going to play in the CHL. Why did you choose Canada over college?
JB: I actually committed to Michigan State University and my family's big, they're Italian, so they like to keep us safe and do the traditional college route. This year, I was away from home, eight hours away, and it was tough for everybody. However, I do want to go to college and I think to be able to get myself a chance to achieve the dream I've had as long as I remember and being able to go to college after that, if it works out, it'll be huge for me. Kitchener's close to me and they've got one of the best coaches in the world there and you can tell by the players they've produced, like Gabriel Landeskog or Jeff Skinner, the past two Calder winners, that it is the best for me. Plus there's a bonus of having family there and being close to home.
HF: Are there any players in Kitchener that you particularly look forward to playing with?
JB: I'm not too familiar with the team and I know that I'm not going to go there and start right on the first line. Like everything in life, it's not going to go easy and wherever they put me is where I have to play at and hopefully, over the course of the season, I will be able to prove myself and move up.
JB: Well, I think that if you're good, they'll find you. I don't think that the fact there's more scouts will help me, but I know about it and I know that everything I do will be looked upon. It means a little bit of pressure if that's the right word. Anyway, the reason I got to Kitchener is development and I believe that with hard work, the great coaching staff they have and the guys I'm going to play with, I will fit into the high-tempo, NHL-like game that's played in the OHL.