NY Sports Day

Schwartz: One Small Skate For Josh Bailey And The Isles

During the coronavirus pandemic, MSG Networks has been showing classic Islanders games including a few nights ago when they aired Game One of last season’s playoff series against the Penguins.  In that game, Josh Bailey scored the game winning goal in overtime and the Islanders were on their way to a four-game sweep of the Penguins.   To be honest, I’ve caught a bunch of the replays including a lot of really classic games from the dynasty era.

Bailey has also spent some of his time away from the rink taking a peek at the past.

“I’ve watched a couple,” said Bailey on a Zoom call with reporters Monday as the Islanders began small group workouts at their practice facility as the NHL began phase two of its return to play plan. 

“More or less if I’m clicking through the channels and I see a game on that interests me maybe could be one from when I was younger or maybe a couple of years ago.   It’s kind of fun to look back on some of those games.  I think there was a playoff game on the other day that I watched a little bit of.”

Sounds like Bailey might have caught his game winner against the Penguins but now he has his sights set on some more playoff magic as the Islanders, the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference, can now begin preparing for their qualifying round playoff series against the 10th seeded Florida Panthers this summer at a yet to be determined hub city.  Monday’s workout with Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin and Thomas Greiss was just one small step towards a return to play after COVID-19 suspended the NHL season in mid-March.

It may have been just a handful of players, along with another group that skated consisted of Scott Mayfield, Christopher Gibson and Devon Toews, but Bailey was grateful to be back on the ice at the Northwell Health Ice Center on Long Island. The five players in Bailey’s group worked on puck-handling and basic things that they would have done with that many participants in a normal situation. 

“It was good,” said Bailey.  “It was nice to get back in there.  It’s a familiar place for us.  It was nice to get back on the ice.  It’s obviously been a while.  It was nice to feel the puck.”

These are anything but normal times although New York State has not only flattened the curve but as Governor Andrew Cuomo likes to point out during his daily media briefings, New Yorkers have “bent the curve” with the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths having dropped dramatically since the start of this ordeal just over 100 days ago.

But even though the numbers are down in New York, the Islanders will resume their season as part of a 24-team quest for the Stanley Cup in what will essentially be a “bubble” to keep the players safe.  The NHL will return to play in hub cities with no fans in the arena and limited support staff on hand.  It will be a far cry from what the raucous Nassau Coliseum would sound like for a playoff game, but the Islanders have to figure out a way to focus on just playing the games.

“It will definitely be different,” said Bailey.  “I think it’s just getting your head wrapped around that it is going to be different.  It’s not going to be what we’re accustomed to and I think when you’re with the team it kind of gives you that normally of things anyway.  We might come out into an empty building but you’re still with the guys and you have that whole routine that you would normally go through.” 

Being away from home is tough enough when it’s two-week road trip in the middle of the season, but the NHL’s return to play format could keep the players, coaches and staff away from their families for an extended period of time.   Bailey’s wife Megan gave birth to the couple’s third child and first daughter Blake on March 31st, not long after the pandemic suspended the NHL season.  With the season potentially resuming as long as the league and the players dot the I’s and cross the T’s on the return to play plan, Bailey could be away from his family for a while.

“As far as the hub city goes, I haven’t thought about that a whole lot outside of when I see my wife and kids, I’m thinking how much time are we going to be away?” said Bailey.  “We’ll have to make sacrifices here and there when the time comes and that’s really where most of our heads are at.”

Bailey and the players underwent coronavirus testing over the weekend and the plan is to skate three times this week as the countdown continues towards the season resuming.  But until the Islanders leave for whatever hub city they will be assigned to, Bailey will continue to catch a classic game or two here and there on television to further keep him engaged with hockey…

Or will he?

“I wouldn’t say I’ve watched a ton of it,” said Bailey.  “I’ve probably watched more Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune than hockey games but it was fun to look back at some of those games.”

And now Josh Bailey and the Islanders can look forward to continuing their phase two workouts and slowly preparing for a training camp that will lead them into their playoff battle with Florida. 

Islanders fans may not be able to see their team in person this summer, but watching the games on television will be a big relief after months of classic games and game shows. 


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