After his first game with the Kootenay Ice, Bailey Brkin was refreshingly candid with the local media about how he felt.
“I honestly felt really nervous and not that confident in myself to begin with,” the 18-year-old rookie goalie admitted. “It’s a horrible thing to say but, I just get like that sometimes and I just try to push through it.”
Brkin made 35 saves on 37 shots in the Ice’s home opener at Western Financial Place last Friday night, in front of a crowd of 3,392 fans. Not only was he named the game’s first star, he had a significant load taken off his shoulders.
His only previous WHL game was in March with the Swift Current Broncos, and he let in 10 goals in a blowout for the Moose Jaw Warriors. Brkin had otherwise spent the rest of the year in Junior ‘A’ with the AJHL’s Calgary Broncos.
He was traded to the Ice in exchange for a draft pick and forward Max Patterson during the middle of preseason. Despite only a game and a half of exhibition play with Kootenay, he was given a chance during opening night.
His big game was rewarded and he was the starter again on Saturday, when the Ice once again played the Calgary Hitmen, but on the road. Although the team lost 3-1, Brkin was still sharp, making 24 saves on 26 shots and being named the night’s second star.
“It felt really good [and] it’s just surreal to play in an NHL rink like the Scotiabank Saddledome,” he said. “Just [being] on that ice was amazing.”
With a win under his belt from the first night, playing in front of almost 10,000 Hitmen fans didn’t even phase him.
“I didn’t feel as nervous going into [Calgary] because I [think] I proved to myself that I could play in this league and do well [after] that first game,” Brkin said. “It was the same team, so I knew I could stop those shots that were coming at me [and] stop guys like Matteo Gennaro, who was a 30 plus goal scorer last year.”
The biggest thing that Brkin says that he has learned about the league after two games is that the skill and speed is very high.
“Guys can shoot from anywhere [and] pass the puck through three or four people and they can pick corners,” he said. “It’s a way faster league than anything I’ve seen before.”
Having a quality set of defencemen has helped a lot though.
“[They’ve helped] massively. They probably took away five goals that Calgary could have scored in the last two games,” he said. “They’ve been a huge help even with little things like playing the puck.”
As for Brkin’s confidence level, it’s never been higher and he’s thrilled to have gotten out to such a solid start.
“It’s super important [to have good early starts]. It’s always tough to come back from being in a down,” he said. “[My confidence level] is pretty high, not too high that I’ll be cocky, but enough to have the confidence in myself to know that I can stop that next shot.”
According to head coach James Patrick, the young goalie has been one of the team’s best players through two games.
“I thought that both games [Brkin] gave us a chance to win,” Patrick said. “I just thought he played really solid [and] his puck handling was really good.
“He’s pretty calm back there and there’s probably [only] one goal that he’d like back in those two games. He made some great saves.”
With three games in three days over the weekend, Brkin is likely to see some more ice time, while 19-year-old Kurtis Chapman should also get his first look of the year.