Bailey Seagraves is the team's last line of defense.
Each morning at the Columbus Blue Jackets’ “pre-practice,” Bailey Seagraves is one of the first players to take the ice. His job is simple, but daunting. It’s his responsibility to take the punishment that coaches would prefer bigger names like Sergei Bobrovsky or Joonas Korpisalo not take. So for 30 minutes before regular practice begins, Seagraves stands in net and blocks shots that approach 100 mph. He isn’t paid for that privilege. He isn’t an official Blue Jacket and has never made an NHL appearance. So why get up each morning to be pelted by hard rubber pucks?
“It’s for the love of the game,” assistant coach Kenny McCudden says.
Seagraves has a unique job in American sports. He’s the Blue Jackets’ emergency goalkeeper, an official role that doesn’t come with a paycheck or a roster spot but that puts him in Nationwide Arena for every game. Seagraves must be ready to defend the crease in the unlikely scenario that both of the team’s goalkeepers are unable to play. NHL teams typically only keep two goalies on their active rosters and can be left without a healthy body on rare occasions.
But, as they say, dreams do come true. Last season, 36-year-old accountant and rec-league goalie Scott Foster was called into action for the Chicago Blackhawks after the two game-day goalies ahead of him were unable to play. Foster took the ice for the final 14 minutes, turning away all seven shots he faced.
The emergency role isn’t usually that glamorous, but Seagraves, 21, sees it as a fun chance to work on his skills and to further his career. “I took it as an opportunity to get some looks,” he says. “And then, hopefully, down the line I’ll get a professional opportunity, whether it’s with the Blue Jackets organization or a minor-league team or even overseas. I’m still pretty young, so I’ve got a lot of hockey left in me.”
Seagraves spent the 2017 season, his first with the Blue Jackets, sitting in complimentary seats for each home game and staying hydrated in case he got the call, which has yet to come. And while he doesn’t hope for the worst for his teammates, he says he’d be thrilled by the chance.
“You never want to wish any injury or bad luck,” he says, “but things happen in pro sports.”
Seagraves has played at several levels of professional and semi-professional hockey. Now, he makes a living by helping coach young hockey players with St. Charles Preparatory School, St. Francis DeSales High School and soon with Jackets star Cam Atkinson’s training facility, Battery Hockey Academy in Plain City.
McCudden says Seagraves is “the perfect fit of a guy” and believes he uses his emergency goalie in practice more than anyone else in the NHL. He doesn’t expect the young goalie to work unpaid for long; he thinks Seagraves will soon find a place somewhere like the third-tier East Coast Hockey League.
For now, Seagraves is just enjoying his idiosyncratic role. “I feel like I’m on the verge of being able to do something special with this and play somewhere else,” he says. “But right now, I love being at the rink and being with the Blue Jackets.”
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