Kevin Bailie joins 50 win club

Gaels goalie reflects on a wild road to becoming one of Queen’s hockey’s all-time greats

Bailie has been at Queen’s since 2013.
Bailie has been at Queen’s since 2013.
Credit: 
Supplied by Kevin Bailie

In 2013, Kevin Bailie found himself scraping off the remains of a plate in the back of an East Side Mario’s in Belleville, Ontario. It was rock-bottom — that much he knew. 

His future was far from certain. Recently released by the OHL’s London Knights, the 21 year-old Bailie thought he’d never touch the ice again as a goalie. But six years later, the sound of a final buzzer at the Memorial Centre marked Bailie’s 50th career win as a Gael. 

And his future looked pretty good.

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Bailie’s junior career was full of promise. After playing internationally early on, the Belleville native was drafted in the first round by the Oshawa Generals at the age of 16. With four seasons and 109 games under his belt, going pro was the only thing on his mind.

“From a very young age I always thought I would provide for my family through hockey,” Bailie said. “But when you’re 21, you think you know everything.”

After getting traded to the London Knights in 2012, Bailie began to play the best hockey of his life. In his 27 games with the Knights, he posted a stellar 0.921 save percentage and had a career-best 2.5 goals against average. But with a crop of young talent on its way in, the Knights released Bailie. 

“I remember thinking at a certain point that I wasn’t going to play another game of hockey ever again,” Bailie recalled after being cut. Shortly after the team’s decision, he moved back to Belleville to live with his parents. 

With no education, washing dishes at an East Side Mario’s was his only option. The world, Bailie remembered, felt unforgiving. Just months earlier he played in front of 11,000 people a night. 

“Being rock-bottom, washing dishes, working a job that only criminals can really get, you think you’re the biggest loser in the world,” Bailie said. He’d fallen hard and he didn’t think he would get up any time soon.

But in the spring of 2013, Queen’s hockey coach Brett Gibson made a phone call.

“[I]t was a phone call that changed my life,” Bailie said.

With Queen’s roster facing significant turnover, Gibson searched for new talent. He offered Bailie a spot on the team and a chance to get an education.

“When you’re in the dish pit, getting an education sounds pretty good,” Bailie said.

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Hockey was a foreign concept for Bailie’s parents, Mark and Gabrielle, when they came to Canada. Mark, a first-generation Irishman and Gabrielle, an immigrant from Italy, had Bailie try every sport he could get his hands on. Entering Canadian culture, hockey simply made sense.

Bailie’s parents’ relationship with hockey has been very different over the 26 year-old’s career. Although his dad is a constant figure in the stands, his mother has only seen him play a handful of times — a response to the nerves she feels while watching him play.

“I take her not watching me as a sign of her love, because she doesn’t want things to go wrong,” Bailie said.

Despite being there every step of the way, his father has had his doubts.

“When I decided I wanted to become a goalie, I think he was just terrified, because who wants their kid to be a goalie?” Bailie explained, who recently learned his father knew nothing about the game when he first put on skates. 

But like many fathers, he didn’t want his son to know this. When he decided to pursue goaltending, Bailie found out his father would sneak to the local library to read retired Soviet goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak’s “The Art of Goaltending.” Off the ice, his dad would run some of the drills outlined in the books.

“I was like, ‘How is he thinking to do these things?’” Bailie said, recalling a drill wherein his dad would write fractions on tennis balls and throw them at him. Before making the catch, Bailie had to say the fraction out loud to train his ability to track the ball.

“They were old Russian, Soviet techniques so it’s kind of funny now,” Bailie said. It was this, Bailie noted, that served as the catalyst for his early athletic success.

“If I didn’t do that from a young age, I probably wouldn’t have the athletic success that I have now,” Bailie said.

With Bailie’s career nearing its end, it’s been an emotional time for the two, who have experienced the best and worst hockey has to offer together.

“He said to me at the start of the year, ‘When you were three years old I put you on the ice and, even though you’re old now, at your last game, I’ll be sure to take you off of it,’” Bailie said. 

“This has been a ride I’ve taken with him.” 

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Reaching the 50-win mark has been on Bailie’s mind for a while. While there are no definitive records of the most wins in a Gaels uniform, there’s no doubt the achievement only reaffirms his position as one of the best hockey players Queen’s has seen.

A starter since he arrived on campus, Bailie’s first year was one to remember. Finishing the season with a .934 save percentage, Bailie was named CIS Rookie of the Year, CIS All-Rookie, OUA MVP, OUA Top Goaltender and OUA Rookie of the Year.

In Bailie’s rookie season, Queen’s finished fifth in the league and nearly upset the first seed in the second round of the playoffs. The season prior, they had finished fourth-last in the OUA.

“When Kevin came, he was that generational player that changed the program,” Gibson said.

In each season but one since his arrival, Bailie has seen the team’s record improve from the year before. Not only has he helped Queen’s improve, Bailie has also been a large reason why the Gaels are considered one of the best teams in the country. 

The personal accolades have followed as well. During the 2016-17 season, he represented Canada at the FISU games and also played in the Ottawa Senators’ prospect camp this past fall. Last year, he was named Queen’s male athlete of the year.

Last season, the Gaels set a new precedent for Queen’s hockey by reaching the OUA finals and subsequently playing in the U Sports Championships — something Bailie cherishes more than any of his individual accolades.

“That to me is the ultimate kind of recognition the team could have,” Bailie said.

Throughout his career at Queen’s, one of Bailie’s motivators has been his desire to leave a legacy behind.

“When I’m working 10 years from now in an office, in my heart I hope that Queen’s is very successful,” Bailie said. His coach believes — rather, he knows — the effect Bailie’s had.

“Kevin has now set the bar for every kid that comes though the program … you can be an All-Canadian and an academic all-star,” Gibson said. “That’s what Kevin’s done.”

This year has come with its own set of challenges. During last year’s playoffs, Bailie began experiencing pain in his hips. Through the team’s historic playoff run, Bailie kept it under wraps to maintain the positivity in the dressing room.

But on Oct. 21 against Ryerson, he couldn’t go any longer. After several visits with Queen’s strength and conditioning coaches, Bailie found himself back in the crease for the Gaels in November. And while the injury isn’t fully healed — a complete recovery will require surgery — Bailie is just happy to be in control of his last games as a Gael.

“Where I come from, there’s a saying, ‘go out with your boots on.’ It’s kind of like, leave everything on your own terms,” Bailie said, who will begin his career as a lawyer at the end of the semester.

“And that’s what I’m trying to do.”

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