University of Michigan forward Jason Bailey brought a unique international resume with him when he arrived for his freshman year with the Wolverines this past September.
A 6’1 208 pound right wing from Nepean, Ontario, Bailey made the move across Ann Arbor, Michigan, from the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) to the UM campus like many others who preceded him at the national program. Having played his whole developmental career in Canada, Bailey was able to take advantage of the dual US-Canadian citizenship of his mother, which allowed him to be extended the offer to join the prestigious national program.
Not too many athletes in any sport can claim international titles while competing for different countries, but Bailey can stake that claim. He won a gold medal with his University of Michigan teammate Andrew Cogliano (EDM) at the 2004 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge in St. John’s, Newfoundland while playing for Team Ontario. He followed that title up with a gold medal at the 2005 IIHF World Under-18 Championships held last spring in the Czech Republic as a member of the USNTDP team.
A power forward who possesses excellent straight line speed, Bailey plays a high energy, crash and burn style. Generally not a prolific scorer, he has a knack for coming up with key goals at the most opportune times. He scored seven goals and 12 assists in 59 games with the US program last season and finished only second to his current UM teammate Jack Johnson (CAR) in penalty minutes.
With UM this season, the Anaheim third rounder in 2005 started slowly offensively but has picked up the pace in the scoring area as the season has progressed. Through 20 games, he’s accounted for five goals and two assists.
Michigan Coach Red Berenson recently noted Bailey’s improvement, commenting that “Bailey is one of our players who is taking a step forward. He wins the races to the puck, he wins the battles along the boards, and now he’s getting rewarded. He hasn’t played on the power play and he hasn’t killed penalties, so I’ve got to find a little better role for him with more ice time. He’s playing with good players, playing on a good line, and now he needs to be playing more because he’s making a positive impact for this team when he is on the ice.”
Bailey sat down last week with Hockey’s Future to talk about the USNTDP program, international hockey and the current state of his own game.
HF: How difficult was the move when you first came to the U.S. National (USNTDP) Under-18 program?
JB: It was extremely difficult. Living my whole life in Canada and growing up there, I had to adjust to a whole new country, a new school, a new team. I basically didn’t know a soul here. It was definitely a real big adjustment. But, it ended up working out great.
HF: What are the benefits that came out of playing for the USNTDP?
JB: The biggest benefit from playing with the USNTDP was the weight training program there. And, you get the chance to play almost a full college schedule before you get to your own university. It’s run like you’re already in a college program. So, you really get a taste of what that competitive atmosphere is like before you get to university.
HF: Did it feel odd putting on the USA sweater for the first time having lived your whole life in Canada? And, did you ever actually compete against Canada last year?
JB: It was a little strange at first to be wearing the U.S. sweater, but I am happy I made the choice I did. Whatever sweater I wear, I just going to put it on and do my best to win. We actually played Canada in the final game of the season at the Under-18 World Championships for the gold medal. It was definitely a little weird to see the Canadians skate out on the other side. But, I just had to look at it as another hockey game, and we went out there and won.
HF: Did you have any friends on that Canadian team?
JB: Yeah, I knew most of the guys and played with them prior to coming to the US program. But, when you go out there in that situation, there aren’t any friends once you get on the ice.
HF: Did you have any rooting interest in the World Junior Championships that were just completed over the holidays?
JB: No comment (smiling).
HF: Do you have any sense for why the Canadian fans would react so negatively toward the U.S. team in the World Junior Championships when it seems like they would be better served rooting against the Russians who would have been a bigger threat to win?
JB: Canada’s behind their team no matter what. They’re unbelievable fans and anything they can do for their team, they’ll do it.
HF: That tournament, it seems to me, is almost bigger than the Stanley Cup to Canadians.
JB: Definitely. It’s huge. I went home on December 15th and all I watched on TV was World Junior reports, World Junior this, World Junior that. It’s unbelievable the coverage that tournament gets in Canada.
HF: You’re about halfway into your first college season at the University of Michigan. How do you feel you’ve adapted to the college game?
JB: I definitely think I’ve adapted well. It’s certainly different than playing with the U.S. team. When you go out there with the U.S. Under-18 team, some college teams may not really be up for the game since they’re exhibition games for them. This year at Michigan, though, it seems like every team we come up against is really up to play us. We definitely seem to get our opponent’s best effort every night. I do think, though, that I’ve adjusted well and that I just have to keep working hard. I think it can be a really good season for us.
HF: You seem to have figured out your role on the team. Once you got a permanent spot on one of the top lines, your game seems to have jumped significantly.
JB: I’ve always kind of known what my role is — to be a physical player and an energy guy and to open up the ice for my linemates. But, my comfort zone has allowed me to work even harder. And, playing with some of the veterans has really helped me pick my game up.
HF: Is that the same role you expect to have when you move on to pro hockey?
JB: Yeah, I like playing a physical game. I like playing high energy. I think every team needs guys like that. Put a puck in the net here or there, chip in offensively once in a while and be sure I do whatever is necessary defensively to help the team out.
HF: There have been a lot of early departures among college players leaving school early to play pro hockey. Do you see yourself as a four-year player at Michigan?
JB: Yeah. I don’t think I’m going to be ready much before four years. Whatever it takes to get me ready.
HF: Talking about the specifics of your game, could you talk about your skating?
JB: I feel like skating is one of the stronger parts of my game. I think I have good speed and I really like to use it going on the forecheck, on the back check and winning races to the puck.
JB: I have a good shot, but sometimes I think I need to get it off a little quicker. I also should really use it more often. Instead of looking for a play, just let the shot go a little earlier. I am a power forward type player so I should really be looking to put the puck on the net and drive to the net.
HF: You’re part of a large freshman class and there are a lot of potential leaders from among them. Do you see yourself evolving into more of a leadership role as your career progresses?
JB: There are ten of us in the class and I think we all can chip in toward that kind of role. I think I can be a really good leader out there. I really try to get the guys going with a big hit. I’m always up on the bench. Even though it is a big class, they’re all great guys and a lot of good potential leaders in the class.
HF: What specifically are you looking to improve upon as you look toward a possible pro career?
JB: I really don’t think that, as a player, you can be too good at anything. I would really like to get better at every part of my game. I’d like to get faster, stronger, develop a better shot — just get better all the way around.
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