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 tonight 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 on Monday, loved the Sabres.
So when the Sabres called Bailey’s name tonight, 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.”
His mother, 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.
Later in July, Bailey 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.”
He attended the Sabres’ recent combine and had spoken to them, although he didn’t know their interest level.
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.”