He has been piling up the wins and accumulating nicknames since joining the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League via Western Hockey League waivers.
Brkin Wall. Croatian Sensation. Croatian Warrior.
In fleeting terms, overage goalie Bailey Brkin has been nothing short of sensational for the Greyhounds since they acquired his OHL rights from Kingston on November 12 in what was an arranged deal between the two teams after the Frontenacs had claimed him off WHL waivers earlier that day.
At that time, the Greyhounds were grounded at the bottom of the OHL Western Conference standings with a record of 6-12-1.
But since the Greyhounds sent struggling overage goalie Christian Propp (and a 13th-round draft pick) to Kingston in exchange for Brkin, the Soo has turned its season around.
From a record of 6-12-1 without Brkin in the net, the Greyhounds took a mark of 17-16-2 into the Christmas break. And the mathematics and statistics show that Brkin has started every game for the Greyhounds since arriving in the Soo and put up a record of 11-4-1 to go with a 3.21 goals against average and .894 save percentage.
Hence the nicknames.
Brkin Wall. Croatian Sensation. Croatian Warrior. (Brkin is of Croatian descent and the back of his goalie mask bears the coat of arms of the Croatia homeland and the family of his dad, Zlatko Brkin.)
And on another aside, Brkin has discovered the Croatian Corner, a delicatessen and takeout eatery in the Sault’s downtown — located on the edge of Bruce and Wellington streets — that features home-made cabbage rolls and other Croat delicacies.
But maybe the best that Brkin has tasted since traveling to Sault Ste. Marie from his Edmonton, Alberta area hometown of Sherwood Park — a distance of about 2,600 kilometers — is the way the 6-foot-3, 175-pound goalie has played for the Greyhounds after being waived out of the WHL.
Which really, if you look at his statistics from last season, what the 20-year old Brkin has done in the OHL for the Greyhounds in 2019-2020 is merely an extension of what he did in the WHL for the Spokane Chiefs in 2018-2019.
Because in fact, Brkin is coming off a splendid 2018-2019 season in the WHL as a 19-year old starter with Spokane, where he put up really good numbers — a 27-11-3 record to go with a 2.75 goals against average and .914 save percentage.
Still, the slender tender can rightly be termed a late bloomer as a goalie.
The 2018-2019 campaign with Spokane of the WHL was Brkin’s first full season at the major junior level — and as a 19-year old, no less. He did play a good part of the 2017-2018 season in the WHL as an 18-year old, suiting up for the Kootenay Ice before being traded to Spokane — but also spent a chunk of that term in the Alberta Jr. Hockey League with the Lloydminster Bobcats.
And prior to that, as 17-year old, Brkin spent the entire 2016-2017 season in the AJHL with the lowly Calgary Mustangs, except for one game in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos.
Fast forward back to the start of this 2019-2020 season and despite coming off that good 2018-2019 campaign with Spokane, Brkin fell victim to the numbers game with the Chiefs, who opted to go with two younger goalies and use their three overage spots at the forward and defense positions.
Thus, the well-traveled Brkin ended up being dealt by Spokane to the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL but despite good numbers through 13 games of this season, he was put on waivers to make room for a younger goalie who was returning from the injury list.
Which is when fate intervened and the OHL Greyhounds came calling and arranged the aforementioned deal with Kingston after Brkin had cleared WHL waivers.
And as his numbers with the Soo clearly reflect, Brkin has been a saviour for the Greyhounds in solidifying what had been a shaky position before the nomadic youngster landed in Ontario, far away from his Western Canada home.
If his emergence as a legitimate, major junior, workhorse goalie is not proof enough of what Brkin has to offer, his relentless resilience and commitment in taking a long road through two teams in the AJHL and four teams in the WHL to get to where he is now, speaks volumes about him.
If there are such things as hockey gods, one would think that they have at last taken note of the Brkin Wall, aka Croatian Sensation, aka Croatian Warrior.
And maybe, just maybe, some National Hockey League team will come calling after this season with a tryout invitation to a rookie and/or main training camp.
Bailey Brkin is the name. Stopping pucks and winning are his game.