Backbone in the goal

Behind the league’s best defence, two junior converts thrive

One half of the Gaels goaltending tandem, Kevin Bailie’s .934 save percentage ranks third in the OUA.
One half of the Gaels goaltending tandem, Kevin Bailie’s .934 save percentage ranks third in the OUA.

They’re one of sports’ rarest contradictions: experienced rookies.

The first-year goaltender pair of 22-year-old Kevin Bailie and 20-year-old Chris Clarke has led Queen’s men’s hockey to a program-best 17 wins so far this season. With one regular season game left, they boast the lowest combined goals against average in the OUA.

They’re also on pace to give up just 56 goals, which would be the lowest total of any OUA team in the past six seasons.

Even though Bailie has played the majority of the Gaels’ games, head coach Brett Gibson has stressed that this hasn’t cemented his place as the starter for the four-year period he’ll be at Queen’s.

Bailie isn’t arguing. The pair’s greatest strength, he said, lies in their partnership.

“It’s tough to say anything bad about Clarke,” Bailie said. “If he’s going in net, I cheer for him to win; if I’m in net, he does the same for me. It’s nice to have a goalie tandem where you’re not focused on or distracted by who’s in net and just focused on wins.”

Bailie and Clarke’s stories are strikingly similar and radically different, Both played on Memorial Cup bound-teams in the Canadian Hockey League last season, both bounced around the Canadian junior ranks and both played behind some of hockey’s top young stars during their junior careers.

Last year, the Belleville-born Bailie appeared to have settled into a groove in his fourth Ontario Hockey League season, posting an 18-4-1 record and a .921 save percentage with the London Knights. Still, he was cut mid-season in favour of Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Anthony Stolarz, who led the Knights to a league championship.

Bailie then took his talents down to Junior A hockey, taking the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League to a berth in the RBC Cup national championship game.

Clarke, meanwhile, backed up one of the top goaltending prospects in the country on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Halifax Mooseheads.

He won the Memorial Cup with one of the most dominant junior teams in recent memory, featuring World Junior goaltender Zach Fucale, current NHL star Nathan MacKinnon and highly touted prospect Jonathan Drouin.

Combined, they played on six junior teams before coming to Queen’s. Bailie said moving constantly provides a healthy dose of adversity.

“It makes you a better person and a better player,” he said.

While getting the number of starts that would suggest he’s a backup goaltender, Clarke’s play with Queen’s has been anything but. He has a 5-1 record in seven games played and leads the league in save percentage at .941. Bailie sits third at .934, going along with an 11-9 record.

Six of Bailie’s losses came on nights where he gave up three goals or less, showing how he and Clarke give the Gaels a chance to compete each and every night.

Bailie knew when he came to Queen’s that the men’s hockey program wasn’t a national or provincial powerhouse, but liked the underdog appeal and potential the program had.

“While I could have gone to a school that had been competing for a national championship every year, anyone can do that,” he said. “That’s not unique. I wanted to help build the program.

“Hopefully some success will show new recruits an added attraction about Queen’s.” While both Bailie and Clarke were successful in the junior ranks, their first year in the OUA has been when they’ve really blossomed into stars. Among other factors, Bailie credits a strong team unit as instrumental in the goaltenders’ strong performances.

“There’s not any guys moving around in trades or guys coming and going in drafts, so we’re all really close,” he said. “Everyone knows at this point that the sense of team is the most important thing.”

Their strong play suggests Clarke and Bailie may break the trend of the OUA being the end of the road for hockey players; both could potentially play higher levels of hockey once their Queen’s days are done.

That said, Bailie insists he’s only got one thing on his mind.

“I’m not focusing on what will happen after I move on,” he said. “I want to win a championship here.”

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