Gaels get their shot at the NHL with rookie invites

Kevin Bailie and Nathan Billitier recently invited to NHL rookie camps

Kevin Bailie recently attended the Ottawa Senators’ rookie camp.
Kevin Bailie recently attended the Ottawa Senators’ rookie camp.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo
While the level of University hockey is exceptional, the choice to play it often signals the final stages of a player’s career. With the chances of getting to play in the big leagues starting to dry up, players begin to look at careers off the ice. For two Queen’s players, last weekend gave them one shot at their childhood dream. 
 
Fifth-year veteran goaltender Kevin Bailie was invited to the Ottawa Senators’ rookie camp while incoming rookie defenceman Nathan Billitier spent his weekend with the Columbus Blue Jackets. 
 
At the camps, the players went through fitness tests,  bloodwork, concussion testing and other evaluations to ensure that they are completely healthy.
 
After practicing for two days, teams travelled to nearby tournaments to showcase their talents. For Bailie, the Senators travelled to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens while Billitier made the trip down to Michigan to play the for the Blue Jackets against seven other teams of rookies. 
 
This was Bailie’s first trip around the block at an NHL rookie camp, though he had previously been to numerous high-performance invitationals at the junior level in past summers. Despite opportunity knocking at the door for years, the NHL hadn’t reached out until this year. With his academics progressing and the years passing, Bailie has had to think about his future.
 
With offers coming in from European leagues and a select number of organizations reaching out to Bailie, he had to weigh his options between school and hockey. 
Choosing to leave Queen’s and play professionally would mean abandoning his career path as a lawyer, which was never an enticing option for Bailie.
“I’ve never valued it enough to leave. Basically what I told the Senators was that I’m very happy with my career path as a lawyer. It would take a lot to get me off of that,” Baillie said.
 
With that, Bailie was firm with the fact that he will be using his final year of eligibility to focus solely on the Queen’s hockey team.
 
“All of my attention is now on the Queen’s team,” Bailie said.
 
Meanwhile, this was also Billitier’s first go-around in the big leagues. 
 
The twenty year old has youth on his side and hopes the experience will be beneficial for his hockey career down the road. Interestingly, Billitier’s time may come in the next few weeks.
 
Evidently impressed by his performance at the rookie tournament, on Wednesday Billitier was asked to attend the Blue Jackets’ training camp. Billitier was pleased with his performance on the weekend and with being selected to the training camp, he has a shot at playing in preseason action for the Blue Jackets.
 
“It was one of those things where you’re more excited than nervous. It’s a great opportunity to showcase yourself…so you just have fun with it and enjoy the process,” Billitier said.
 
Though Billitier’s time in Columbus may be longer than expected, it’s still very likely that he will be lacing up for the Gaels at the start of the season.
 
At the end of it all, the players were only full of gratitude for the opportunity to play at the NHL level.
 
“It was a great opportunity for me to take advantage of. I worked hard to make sure I was ready for it and it was definitely a different experience playing for the Blue Jackets,” Billitier said.
 
Meanwhile, Bailie was sentimental about the experience. 
 
“At this point in my career I’m fairly positive I’m going to be a lawyer, not a hockey player, so the fact that I can say that I got to wear an NHL jersey and got to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs…I’m looking at it as a life-long memory that I’ll always cherish,”  Bailie said.

 

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