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More active recruiting effort pays dividends for Queen’s coach

June 26, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

At the end of the last intercollegiate hockey season, Brett Gibson made a decision.

“I can’t settle,” the Queen’s Golden Gaels coach said. After failing to win a playoff game for the third year in a row, Gibson concluded that if he was ever going to put his hockey team over the proverbial hump, he could no longer get by “on my good looks and personality” when he hit the recruiting trail.

“I won’t lie,” Gibson said. “It’s hard recruiting here at Queen’s. If I coached at any other school it would be a lot easier. I don’t have the funds that others schools do. Not only do I have the financial side of it but the academic challenges (of getting prospective athletes admitted).

“You can pout and complain about it but I’ve been here nine years. I know it. I just had to focus on who these top guys are, how are they academically and not let them out of my grasp once I knew I could get them into the school. I needed to go after these major junior guys, keep hounding them.”

Which is why Gibson is delighted with the outcome of his most concerted recruiting effort since he came to Queen’s. Tuesday he announced that nine players had committed to play this year for the Gaels, and seven of them have major junior experience.

Historically, it’s been difficult to lure more than one or two ex-Canadian Hockey League players a year to Queen’s, while other schools routinely bag five or six at a time. But if you can get a couple to commit early, Gibson discovered, “then it starts snowballing.”

“I’ve never had this before so it’s really exciting for me.”

Gibson said the key is to make connections and develop relationships with recruits. Perhaps none was more powerful than the one he made with Kevin Bailie, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender from Belleville who was 18-4-1 with the London Knights when he was cut adrift at the trading deadline in January.

“He was at a low point in his career and we were there to help him out,” Gibson said.

Bailie had approached Gibson last summer to express his interest in attending Queen’s. As Bailie’s stock rose over the course of a year that began with the Knights and ended being named the outstanding goaltender in the RBC Cup tournament, so, too, did the interest in securing his services among other university teams.

“He had a huge year and it made me nervous,” Gibson said. “You almost want to say, ‘Have a good year, not a great year,’ but he had a great year and when the UNBs and Saint Marys and Acadias come calling, you have to listen. I told him to. But at the end of the day I’d built that relationship and that relationship was built on trust and he chose us.”

When he was announced Tuesday as a member of what may well prove to be Queen’s best class of incoming hockey freshmen in, well, ever, Bailie said he was “recruited hard” by several schools, many of them with established, championship programs.

“A lot of kids might see those championships and say ‘I want to win next year, I want to win every year’ and that might over-ride their decision, academically,” he said, “but I’d approached Brett last summer, before going into my overage year. I made it clear to him that I was really interested in coming to Queen’s. I made my commitment to him in January of this year and I wasn’t going to break that commitment.”

Bailie said he was “blindsided” by his release from the Knights.

“I wasn’t too happy about it,” he said. “I was actually going to come to Queen’s for the second semester, even though I wouldn’t have been able to play.”

Then he had a conversation with Kory Cooper, the ex-Belleville Bulls goaltender who has been a goalie coach with the Kingston Frontenacs and last year was working with the St. Mike’s goalies in Mississauga.

“He’s from P.E.I. and he said I’d love it there,” Bailie recalled, and soon he was on his way to the junior A team in Summerside. “He said I might as well play out my overage year. They were hosting the RBC Cup so they had a guaranteed berth in it. He said if I went there I’d have a great time and then I could come to Queen’s.

“I listened to him and I had an amazing time. It was awesome, a really good experience for me.”

The Summerside Capitals ended the tournament with the silver medals, after losing the championship game to a team from Brooks, Alta. Bailie was named the tournament’s outstanding goalkeeper.

“I wouldn’t trade that for the world,” Bailie said. “I was really happy I ended up going there.”

 

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