Here’s the pitch: both Nick and Shelby are hockey players, the latter in early talks to represent the new women’s team in Chelyabinsk, which applied to join the WHL for the 2021-22 season. Their beautiful daughter Swayzie Mae, born March 6, has already been fitted with her very own Traktor jersey. The family boasts quarantine TikTok stardom, and to top it all off, Nick is a finance aficionado. Interested parties can apply with a choreographed TikTok dance, or perhaps via DM on a Bloomberg Terminal.
“At times when we're home in Florida, Shelby and I are like, ‘Man, we need to have more friends. All we do is spend all of our time with one another,’” Nick joked from quarantine in Latvia, where he will soon represent Belarus at the World Championships [he received citizenship in 2014 while playing for Dinamo Minsk]. “And I'm like, ‘It doesn't bother me, but does it bother you?’”
Rest assured that Nick Bailen has a few thousand friends in the form of Traktor’s fanbase, who would have been thrilled to witness the team’s redemption season that included a round of playoff action. From the bottom of the Eastern Conference to postseason contender, head coach Anvar Gatiyatulin’s return marked a new dawn for the club, and Bailen contributed 35 points to the campaign—his best-ever showing in Chelyabinsk.
I caught up with the cryptocurrency-investing, TikTok-producing new father from Riga. We discussed parenthood, Traktor’s improved showing this season, the youth movement on Team Belarus and much more.
Gillian Kemmerer (GK): The last time I interviewed you, we were all under lockdown. You had almost beheaded your wife Shelby with a ceiling fan while filming a TikTok video. Fast forward to now, Traktor made the playoffs, Shelby gave birth to your first child and you’re at Worlds. What a difference a year makes.
Nick Bailen (NB): And both of these interviews were in quarantine, so that's kind of funny one year apart. Here we are, another country, another quarantine. But yeah, it's crazy how the world changed like that. I don't know if we knew she was pregnant yet at the time of that interview. I don't think so. It might've been that night when we conceived, who knows.
GK: Your new addition is absolutely beautiful, and I saw that she was already outfitted in a Traktor jersey. Given that both you and Shelby are hockey players, I have to ask if hockey taught either of you any lessons about parenthood?
NB: Definitely not, but Shelby has been great so far. She's a total natural. It probably helps being one of eight kids with so many nieces and nephews and things like that. She was a trooper right from the get go, especially during the delivery by herself. Her mom was there, but it was long and stressful especially in COVID. She was so strong and had set up electronic devices for FaceTime with me the whole time. The first week of her life, not being there was tough for me. But after that, I mean, you don't even remember that first week.
GK: You must have been dying to get home.
NB: The first moment when I was able to hold her—it was amazing. After a thirty-eight-hour trip home, I think I held her for six hours before I even slept. I told my mom and dad that I never understood the way they loved me until that moment. What they say is true—you don't know until you know.
GK: I was talking to Simon Hrubec who just won the Gagarin Cup with Avangard. He was telling me that after his son was born, he became a calmer goaltender because he had a broader context by which to view the world. Have you experienced this too?
NB: Yeah, for sure. Just being away for the last eight or nine days, when I am having a lonely or hard day, when they wake up and FaceTime or I look at the baby monitor it's like, “Everything is okay. Life is all right.” So I see where he's coming from. I think I had two games after she was born, but that was the honeymoon stage. It wasn't real because I hadn’t held her yet. These games and Worlds, it will be the first time when I have someone that's more important than my career.
GK: Two hockey-playing parents. Do we have a goaltender, center, maybe an enforcer on our hands?
NB: She’s got some strong thighs on her. That's for sure. Actually, Shelby might play next year in Chelyabinsk for the new women’s team.
GK: That’s incredible news!
NB: We don’t know if it will be plausible because of our practices and game schedules. I know Traktor’s talking to her a little bit about different situations that are plausible—only home games, or maybe just half a year to see how things go. Hockey is going to be in [Swayzie’s] blood, but we have to move out of Florida for that to happen. Maybe we'll go more up North a little bit, but time will tell.
GK: Speaking of Traktor, I was chatting with your captain just a few weeks ago, Sergey Kalinin. Of all the changes that occurred inside of the organization, what do you think was the key to your success?
NB: I think bringing Anvar [Gatiyatulin] back was a huge part. He has a very calm demeanor, which I think goes a long way throughout the duration of a season. When you get traded, a coach's demeanor really sets the tone for the season, in my opinion. I personally loved playing for Anvar because he's so calm. Obviously, that doesn't mean he doesn't care—because he does. But to him, it's why panic and scream and belittle you? It's not going to get anything out of you more. I think that is what really helped us here. Obviously there were times when he had to be tough on us, but for the most part, he really knows how to handle all of us the right way.
Kalinin was a good leader because he speaks both languages so well. We had two phenomenal goalies this year, which I think was probably the biggest reason for the success of the team. We weren't a high-scoring team this year at all, by any means. Those two guys in the net really set the tone for the team this year.
GK: Both of those goalies—Fedotov and Will—are on deck for the World Championships.
NB: Roman Will is on the Czech team. Sweden has [Lawrence] Pilut, and then me here. Ivan [Fedotov] moved to CSKA now, which will be good for his future. He’s a really good goalie, big body, and I wish all the best of success to him. Thankfully, we’ve got Roman back in net for us at Traktor. We’ve also signed [Emil] Garipov, so I think we'll have another good two goalies this year.
GK: Avangard Omsk surprised many when they captured the Gagarin Cup. Did the results surprise you?
NB: I for sure thought Kazan would win. They're just so hard to play against, especially in their own arena. That series where only the away team won was so strange—but especially given how hard it is to play in Kazan too. Every year that I've been in this league, Kazan has been the hardest team to play against. They're tough, they're physical, they're hard-working. But power to Omsk, they have a lot of talent on the team. Goaltending wins championships, and Hrubec had a really good playoff run. Obviously you need offense to win and special teams, but when you run into a hot goalie, it’s hard to beat.
GK: Looking at this Belarusian squad for Worlds, I see familiar, young names. These kids really stepped up for Dinamo Minsk, which also had a redemption season this year under Craig Woodcroft. How would explain the youth movement in Belarus?
NB: There are a lot of young kids in Belarus that played major junior or USHL or college, American League, East Coast, etc. They learned about life and they learned a lot of hard work. Especially when you go to the North American leagues, you grind in major junior and try to work your way up. You really get a work ethic from that. A prime example is Yegor Sharangovich, who grinded it out for two years in the American League, started the year in Minsk on loan and dominated. He was probably their best player the first thirty or so games he was here, and then went and had good success for New Jersey. He's an ultimate role model that all of these young kids need to observe. Sharangovich is a really nice, quiet kid, works hard, takes care of himself, very respectful. We really need him to lead the way for the country. I think he'll be a very good captain one day for the National Team.
GK: What is it like representing a country at Worlds that is not the place you hail from originally?
NB: I definitely think, at times, it's maybe a little weird. Whether the guys look at you differently, or the people from the outside world look at you a little bit differently. But I mean, I'm like an old grandpa here. I've known the older guys for seven years now that are here. With them, it's easy. Most of them speak a little bit of English, and my Russian is enough to get by. When I'm here on the National Team, I try to speak as much Russian as possible. At the end of the day, you play for the people to the left and to the right of you, whether that's a National Team or club team.
GK: You’re the grandpa on the team, and yet you're the TikTok star?
NB: Once that quarantine ended, we stopped it. Shelby said we should pick it back up, but I guess our lives have changed a little bit.
GK: What’s the last thing you searched for on the internet?
NB: I was googling technical trading analysis for ETFs and cryptocurrency.
GK: I forgot that you were a finance nerd. Do you want to give us an investing tip? Are you a Dogecoin guy?
NB: No, not at all. My brother is a huge technical guy for crypto, whereas I'm more of an index and stocks guy. I just read my seventh book in seven days over here. My brain's fried.
GK: My next question was about the last book you read.
NB: Ten Ways of Tax Avoidance.
GK: Excuse me? Are you sure you want to admit that out loud?
NB: The Ten Ways of Tax Avoidance on the IRS, and the book before that was the 12 Best Solutions of Sector Trading and ETF Funds.
GK: I am an ex financial journalist, and even I don’t find that exciting.
NB: Yeah, I know. I just fired my wealth advisor because I beat him. Shane Prince over here is very into all of that stuff too. We have a three-hour banter back and forth, but honestly, what’s so interesting is I never really knew Shane before this.
GK: Maybe we will have a KHL hedge fund roll-out from the two of you.
NB: We need to get [Victor] Bartley on for the real estate aspect and then boom, goldmine.
GK: Last question. What is one thing people misunderstand about you?
NB: I’m actually a loner. Everyone always thinks that I'm this outgoing person, but deep down, I'm very quiet. I don't know at what point that happened because I never used to be like that. I think as I've gotten older, it has changed because I've been away for so long.
GK: I’ve read before that extroverts recharge through alone time. It doesn’t mean you are antisocial.
NB: At times when we're home in Florida, Shelby and I are like, “Man, we need to have more friends. All we do is spend all of our time with one another!” And I'm like, “It doesn't bother me, but does it bother you?”
GK: Well, if anything, this interview could act as a personal ad for friends. Whoever’s reading this, take note—you can get investment tips if you join the Bailen household as friends.
NB: Yeah, we’ll all be cryptillionaires. That’s what we're going for.