Day three of camp began with a few players signing their first AHL contracts in forward Mikkel Aagaard and defensemen Kayle Doetzel and Stepan Falkovsky, along with a few experienced players attending Heat camp on a tryout, however the focus was all on continuing to learn Coach Ryan Huska’s system and learning what it means to play Heat hockey.
The style that last year was a get up quick, high intensity, focused on effort style that saw so many different types of players find success. Of course, this isn’t news to every player.
Forward Matt Bailey finds himself transitioning from the palm trees of San Diego to the sunny skies of Northern California as he transitions from being a San Diego Gull to a member of the Stockton Heat.
“[The Heat] were a good team,” Bailey said. “I always felt we played strong games against them. In this division every team is good and can win on any given night. You just have to really be dialed into the details because that’s everything at this level. The parity in this league, and this division, is strong.”
Bailey, who was tied for the team’s fifth leading scorer on the Gulls against the Heat played in all but one game of the season series – a series that saw plenty of storylines. From San Diego’s early wins in October to Stockton’s late season overtime victories, both teams had ups and downs in the series.
In the end, Stockton was 6-5-0-1 in the season series.
So when Bailey wasn’t qualified by the Anaheim Ducks, thus releasing him to free agency, it was important for him to find the right opportunity. So when Brad Pascall approached him about spending time in Stockton, Bailey was all ears.
“I received a good opportunity to come here and I’m happy to be here,” Bailey said. “I really liked playing in this California division too. It’s been a really good division with competitive games and the lack of three-in-threes is a positive.”
Imagine that. Players actually enjoying a smaller schedule which prevents the three games in three nights, or three-in-three’s as they are known affectionately, and instead preferring practice and development time with the hopes of moving on to the NHL. Sounds like the masterminds who helped create the Pacific Division may have been right!
When pressed, Bailey, who’s seen both sides of the schedule having began his pro career with the Ducks old AHL affiliate in Norfolk, wasn’t ready to say it was better, only that he preferred it.
“Playing that three-in-three out on the East is tough,” Bailey said. “Playing that Sunday game after Friday and Saturday is not only a physical battle but it’s definitely a mental battle. I think because we don’t have those in the Pacific, it makes our division even tougher every game, because games are more important and guys are fresher and ready to go at it. The competitions also really strong out here.”
However there are other things that Bailey has had to adjust this offseason with his contract being one of the biggest, going from an NHL contract to an AHL deal. The goal is to get back into the NHL picture.
“Obviously everyone’s goal is to be in the NHL but I take a day-to-day approach to the way I live my life,” Bailey said. “I’ll just try to get a little bit better every day, take it one day at a time and I feel like it’s worked for me in the past.”
Another adjustment is the man behind the bench, going from Dallas Eakins in San Diego to Ryan Huska in Stockton, but that transition has been easy for the 25-year-old.
“They’re both really good coaches. Obviously still getting to know [Coach Huska] but he’s been great so far. He’s very positive, he’s upbeat and his general care of talking with each guy and getting to know them has been awesome. Really good so far.”
However, it’s not the first coach Bailey’s had to have coached in Stockton before. The Stockton Thunder’s (ECHL) all-time winningest coach, Matt Thomas took over at the University of Alaska-Anchorage during Bailey’s final collegiate season and wore the “C” for the first-year college coach.
“[Thomas] and I have been in touch quite a bit since I left college and I was really lucky to have him for one year in Anchorage,” Bailey explained. “He was definitely a person I reached out to throughout the free agency process, all the way to signing with Stockton. He’s helped me get to know the area a bit and tell me some good spots to live, so he’s been a big help from me.”
While it’s only been a couple of days, Bailey had been skating with Heat returning forward Emile Poirier and veteran forward Luke Adam who’s trying out for the Heat during camp as we get closer and closer to the preseason games this weekend.
“I haven’t played a game since the end of last season so for me, I’m definitely excited to get into the action,” Bailey said. “All week it’s about preparing, learning the systems, and getting ready for those preseason games.”
That’s not the only thing for Bailey to get ready for. He has a career year to top, a quest for a Calder Cup and an NHL contract to earn; but Bailey’s focus is unwavering. He knows what he must do, but knows that it doesn’t start during the postseason, regular season, home opener or the preseason games. It started during the summer and will carry through the entire 2016-17 season.
“You want to have long term vision and short term focus,” Bailey said.
The short term focus is there. Bailey’s out to achieve those long term visions now.