Before the season, Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Jeff Worlton likened his team to the “Island of Misfit Toys.”
“We’ve got guys that have tasted success before, maybe at one time were one of the top goalies for their age, or guys that played in the (United States Hockey League) or are a little smaller,” he said. “For whatever reason, they didn’t get the right looks, and now they’re hungry to prove people wrong.”
Exhibit A has been goalie Bailey Seagraves, a 19-year-old out of Hilliard, Ohio.
As of 2013, Seagraves, the billet son of Patty Moran of Soldotna, was one of the top goaltending prospects at his age in the country.
Each year, the United States National Team Development Program invites the top 15- and 16-year-olds in the country to a development camp. Seagraves was one of six goalies invited that year.
In 2013, Seagraves also was drafted in the fifth round of the USHL Futures Draft by the Chicago Steel. The USHL is the top junior league in the United States.
But then injury struck during the 2013-14 season. Seagraves said misalignment in his hips was pulling his pelvis apart.
After getting the injury under control, Seagraves bounced among several teams last season.
“I was promised some things and they didn’t happen,” he said.
Seagraves grew up playing in the Ohio Blue Jackets program. His break came when the AAA coach there, Ed Gingher, talked with Rich Michalowski, the Bears’ director of scouting.
Michalowski scouts the Midwest and had seen Seagraves play, so Seagraves, listed at 6-foot-0, 181 pounds, got invited to main camp and made the team.
“He’s got a very unique story about overcoming the odds,” Worlton said. “He’s dealt with injuries and other stuff, but he’s a competitor.
“He competes in every practice and during the game.”
Seagraves said he was confident he could play in the North American Hockey League. He’s glad the Bears gave him the chance.
He said the route he took to the Kenai Peninsula, with missing a year due to injury and not getting a ton of playing time last season, has even helped him in certain ways.
“I definitely had to learn how to up my practice habits,” he said. “Every shot matters, and I think they matter more when you’re not getting them in a game.”
Despite the 1-12-2-0 start of the Bears, Seagraves has been solid in net. He is 15th in the league in save percentage at .914.
Worlton calls Seagraves one of the top goalies in the league.
“Our record does not reflect the way he’s been playing,” he said.
Seagraves said another thing that helped him stay sharp the last few years is working with goalie coach Jeff Salajko.
Salajko was an assistant coach at Ohio State University when he started working with a 9-year-old Seagraves.
The quality of instruction Seagraves received from an nearly age became apparent in May of this year, when Salajko was named the goaltending coach for the Detroit Red Wings.
“It’s been amazing,” Seagraves said. “I’ve made such a dramatic improvement due to him. I owe him so much.”
Seagraves is a product of the NHL’s push into nontraditional markets.
He said hockey is really growing in Columbus due to the Blue Jackets. When Seagraves was 7 or 8, he quit football and needed another sport.
After going to an ice-skating birthday party and having fun, he talked parents Shawn and Deanna Seagraves into signing him up.
“When they asked who wanted to play goalie, I kept raising my hand,” Seagraves said.
Worlton said Seagraves’ patience and calm stands out. He has been patient as young defensemen have adjusted to the pace of NAHL play, and stays calm no matter what is happening in front of him.
“I think he has a very bright future if he keeps playing the way he is,” Worlton said. “We’re going to win a few more games and that’s going to help him get noticed.”