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Natick hockey player Bailey, 17, dies

1/6/2012

Thirty-six seconds. An insubstantial morsel in the great ocean of time that constitutes our lives.

That’s all the time Justin Bailey had in his varsity hockey career at Natick High. One shift on the Red & Blue’s fourth line during garbage time of a 4-1 non-league loss against undefeated Franklin last Friday.

To anyone in attendance, they might not have noticed it. They might have been headed toward the exits.

But that time, spent wearing his home town’s sweater, meant the world to Justin.

“His father talked to me afterward and told me how much it meant to him,” Natick head coach Karl Infanger said Thursday afternoon. “It was like he’d just won the Stanley Cup.”

Bailey died suddenly on Wednesday at his home, reportedly of natural causes. He was 17 years old.

A senior at Natick, this was Bailey’s first varsity season with the hockey team. He was cut as a freshman, worked hard and spent his sophomore and junior years with the junior varsity. There was no question in Infanger’s mind where Bailey belonged leading into this season, even if he might not see the ice often.

“He was the epitome of a team player,” Infanger said. “He’s the type of kid that isn’t the most gifted athlete in the world, but he had a passion for hockey. He loved the game.

“His teammates loved having him around.”

Infanger makes it a point to have one-on-one meetings with his players every five games throughout the season. He sat down with Bailey a few days ago. Recently, Bailey had been battling an ankle injury, not the kind that would keep him out of practice though. Infanger talked to him about ice time and his role on the team.

“He told me,” Infanger said, “'None of that matters, I just want to see the team win.’”

Bailey’s mother works in the Natick school system and his younger brothers play hockey as well, one of them with the Red & Blue’s J.V. team.

Infanger broke the news of Bailey’s passing to his teammates minutes before they were scheduled to take the ice in a league game against Needham, Wednesday night.

That game and the boys’ and girls’ hockey games scheduled for Saturday have been postponed out of respect for the family, though both teams mingled on the ice at the Suburban Arena on Thursday for a pick-up game of shinny. The ice time had already been reserved for practice.

“We have to take care of life first,” Infanger said, “but it was nice for the kids to come together, and share the game, and have that time to sort through this together.”

On Thursday, word flickered across the Internet that Minnesota high school hockey player Jack Jablonski is not expected to walk again, following an extensive surgery after severing his spinal cord during a game last Friday.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette also reported that 18-year-old Nipmuc Regional student Jack Street was killed on Wednesday after he fell from a ski lift at the Ski Ward in Shrewsbury. A skier from the age of 5, Street was practicing with the school’s ski team for the first time.

When Infanger talked about the shock of learning Bailey’s death, he spoke of how such events can tear down the belief that we’re somehow immune from tragedy as we go about everyday life.

At a time when so much attention is paid to resolutions and hope of things to come, let’s take one lesson throughout this new year:

Thirty-six seconds can mean everything.