NEWARK, N.J. – The memory is seared in Justin Bailey’s mind. The Williamsville native vividly remembers watching from his grandparents’ house as Brett Hull’s disputed “No Goal” eliminated his favorite team, the Buffalo Sabres, from the 1999 Stanley Cup final.
“It was crushing for me,” Bailey said Sunday inside the Prudential Center minutes after the Sabres selected him 52nd overall with their third second-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft.
Even as a 3-year-old, Bailey, who turns 18 today, loved the Sabres.
So when the Sabres called Bailey’s name Sunday, the winger said it felt surreal and was “a dream come true.” His mother, who raised him by herself, “teared up,” he said.
“I couldn’t have picked a better team to have me,” an excited Bailey said. “I honestly couldn’t be happier right now. I’m at a loss for words.”
He added: “I never could have imagined coming to Buffalo.”
Karen Buscaglia knew some former Sabres, including Matthew Barnaby, someone Bailey calls his mentor. The team has always been a major part of his life, and he credits the former Sabres who mentored him.
As he got older, knowing and watching Daniel Briere made Bailey want to be an NHL player.
Pulling on a Sabres jersey “was amazing for my family, for myself,” he said.
“Loving the Sabres, growing up with them as well, I mean, it’s just absolutely amazing,” he said.
Incredibly, Bailey wasn’t the only Buffalo-area player who experienced that special feeling Sunday.
The Sabres grabbed 5-foot-11, 183-pound center Sean Malone, a West Seneca native, in the fifth round, 159th overall.
“It’s a no-brainer at that point,” amateur scouting director Kevin Devine said about the Sabres picking a local player.
Malone said he was thinking about the Sabres taking him.
“Oh yeah, my dad was nudging me a little bit,” Malone said. “It was always a possibility.”
He called putting the Sabres jersey on “crazy.”
“It’s sort of going full loop,” said Malone, who played for Team’s USA Under-18 squad and plans to attend Harvard later this year. “I started off in Buffalo, played two years there, then I went off to the national team and coming back to Buffalo again, it’s pretty cool. I’m just trying to take it all in right now because sometimes, spur of the moment, you just forget about things.”
Later in July, Bailey and Malone will be on the First Niagara Center ice in Sabres gear at the team’s development camp.
“I think it’s incredible,” Bailey said. “I love that rink, and I can’t wait to be able to go out there and show them what I have.”
Both players attended the Sabres’ recent combine.
Bailey, who played with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers last season, knows he might be a bit of project. At 6-foot-3 and 186 pounds, he still needs to fill out. His father, former Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey, is an inch taller and played at 240 pounds, he said.
“For myself to be at 190 pounds and still be able to win the majority of my battles and not be pushed around, I think is a plus,” Bailey said. “I don’t want to put on too much weight where I don’t know my body next year. But I think the sky’s the limit for myself.”
Malone, a big Chris Drury fan growing up, said he plays two ways, battles and thrives off his work ethic.
“He’s a very good skater, a very tenacious guy,” Devine said about Malone. “He looked very good at our combine, tested really well, bright kid.”
General manager Darcy Regier views selecting local youngsters “as an opportunity for both them and us.” The hands-on experience makes for a special development.
Here are the Sabres’ other selections not previously mentioned in today’s paper: center Connor Hurley, second round, 38th overall; right wing Nicholas Baptiste, third round, 69th; goalie Cal Petersen, fifth round, 129th; forward Gustav Possler, fifth round, 130th; defenseman Anthony Florentino, fifth round, 143rd; center Eric Locke, sixth round, 189th.
Notes: The Sabres didn’t tender contracts to defenseman Drew Schiestel or forward Jacob Lagace, Regier said. Goalie David Leggio, a Williamsville native and Rochester’s MVP, will become an unrestricted free agent.