It was inevitable the topic would come up, but Penn State hockey fans probably didn’t anticipate it would come so soon.
The Nittany Lions have a team in the national rankings, are high in the Big Ten standings and have one of the nation’s top goal-scorers.
That goal-scorer — Casey Bailey — is now piquing the interest of NHL teams.
The junior forward has spent the last couple summers at training camps with teams, last year with the Calgary Flames and the year before with the Boston Bruins. Reports have surfaced that the Bruins are showing interest in Bailey.
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“It’s not official or anything right now,” Bailey said, brushing off the pro talk. “But it’s something, there’s always been that opportunity of players from this league have gone on and been successful in the NHL.”
It is fairly common for the top players for a college hockey team to leave in any given year for the pros, and the interest in Bailey is understandable. He has 19 goals and 14 assists this season, which ranks him 14th overall in scoring and tied for fourth in goals while leading the Big Ten. Bailey is past draft-eligible age and is a free agent able to talk with any team.
Assistant coach Keith Fisher also understands why there would be interest.
“He loves scoring goals,” Fisher said. “He loves wearing the blue and white every Friday night, Saturday night. He’s doing a great job and he’s focused on his team this year.”
Bailey said he would consider the possibility of turning pro, but there is plenty to consider, including what he and the rest of the Nittany Lions can do this season, and what could happen next year if he returns.
“That’s a decision to be made for later,” Bailey said. “That’s nothing I’m going to decide on right now. That’s something that, after the season, is when I’ll seriously sit down and think about that.”
When he ponders the future, he also understands the pros and cons for leaving and staying, not only for himself but also for the Nittany Lions. Yes, it would cost the team it’s top goal-scorer, but it also gives even more cache to a three-year-old program that it is already sending someone to the NHL.
“I want to stay, to help this team move on and do big things,” Bailey said. “But at the same time, if I was to leave and something big was to happen for me, that’s good for the program. That’s intriguing for other prospects coming in.”
Bailey is not the only pro prospect on the roster. Four Nittany Lions have been drafted: defensemen Patrick Koudys (Washington Capitals) and Mike Williamson (Vancouver Canucks), forward Max Gardiner (St. Louis Blues) and goalie Eamon McAdam (New York Islanders). And several others on the team are worthy of at least a look by the pro teams.
It may not be the most pleasant thought for fans, but it is certainly preferred to having a team that doesn’t have any pro prospects.
“Casey’s done a great job with that — managing expectations,” Fisher said. “There are a lot of NHL scouts following him, following us the last couple weeks.”
Musico to their ears
Goalie P.J. Musico will remain the Nittany Lions starter, and he has given no reason for the coaches to look elsewhere.
“We’re going to run with the hot goalie right now and see where it takes us,” Fisher said. “He’s a hot goalie. He’s played in our last five games in a row and he’s done an extremely good job.”
The senior, who was third on the depth chart for most of the first half of the season, has started the last three games and won them all. In seven total appearances he has a 4-1-1 record, giving up nine goals, a 1.92 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
“What a great story of him taking the opportunity,” Fisher said. “We talk about taking the bull by the horns and running with it. That’s what he’s done. We kind of scuffed with our goaltending position there for a couple weeks and P.J.’s come in and solidified it.”
Musico was named the Big Ten’s third star in the conference’s weekly honors for the top players. He earned a pair of wins against Wisconsin last weekend, giving up a total of three goals while making 55 saves.
Stay a little longer?
Penn State is back in the national rankings, this time at No. 19 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll.
The team was No. 20 for one poll that spanned mid-December into early January, then lost two straight at the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh.
“We came back from break, I think we were a little loose,” Fisher said. “Just kind of one of those weekends.”
The Nittany Lions (15-7-4, 7-2-1) are riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, which is tied for the longest current streak in Division I, and head to Michigan State (10-12-2, 4-4-2) for games Friday and Saturday night. The teams are second and fourth, respectively, in the conference, separated by six points.
“Our guys are really focused on Michigan State,” Fisher said. “They know how big this weekend is as far as in the standings, making a run at a Big Ten regular season title and a bye in the first round of the Big Ten playoffs. Our guys are focused on Michigan State. They know six points are big this weekend.”