October 07, 2015

Jamie Rivers

Who says you can't go home?

Thirteen years after the Blues made mobile defenseman Jamie Rivers a third-round pick in the 1993 draft, and seven years since he was claimed by the New York Islanders in the waiver draft, Rivers returned to St. Louis to complete his NHL career in 2006-07.

It had been a rollercoaster journey for Rivers, to say the least.

"Well, the last couple of years have been weird, especially with the lockout year (2004-05)," Rivers said. "I had a pretty good year in Detroit before the lockout. Then I came back to Detroit with a new staff, and they had other people in mind. So, I don't think I got any chance there."

After playing 15 games in Detroit, Rivers was traded to Phoenix for a seventh-round selection in the 2006 draft.

"When I got traded to Phoenix, they were great ... (Coyotes coach) Wayne Gretzky gave me a chance to play a lot of minutes," said Rivers, who in junior hockey was once named as the OHL's best defenseman and was a World Junior champion.

He combined for six points in 33 games for Detroit and Phoenix that season, but he was deemed expendable due to some young up and coming talent in Phoenix.

Rivers re-signed with the Blues, partly as an insurance policy as Christian Backman would miss the start of the season recovering from shoulder surgery.

Rivers saw it as an opportunity.

"I just asked for an opportunity to contribute, not just be penciled in as the extra guy or the depth guy," he said. "I wanted a chance to play the game. And they've given me that chance. I wanted to prove to the people here and people watching upstairs that I can play and that I can be counted on."

He ended up playing in 31 games with the Blues that season, thanks in part to more injuries on the Blue's back end.

"He's certainly stepped in and done a great job on the power play," said Jamal Mayers, the lone Blue left from Rivers' time in St. Louis. "He's more comfortable with his role now, what he needs to do on the ice. I think that's indicative of how he plays."

But once the Blues got healthy, Rivers was the odd man out. It was back to the minor leagues and he was not offered a new contract in the summer time.

Rivers was not interested in further two-way contracts that paid poorly to ride the buses in the minor leagues. He headed overseas in search of financial security with some larger paychecks from European clubs. He would play in Russia, Switzerland, and Croatia.

His career came to an end while playing in Croatia. He threw a big bodycheck, knocking the other player out cold. That player's head hit Rivers in the chest and ruptured his spleen. Rivers continued to play and was not aware anything was seriously wrong until the next day. he was rushed to hospital and underwent emergency surgery to deal with all of internal bleeding. He actually flatlined for two minutes and 22 seconds. Doctors were certain they lost him. So certain they issued a death certificate while he was still laying on the table.

Rivers came through, much to the surprise of the doctors and nurses in the operating room. They were able to stop the internal bleeding Rivers is fine to this day. But he was never allowed to play hockey again.

He was allowed to keep the death certificate - the most unusual piece in his hockey memorabilia collection.

October 06, 2015

Garnet "Ace" Bailey

Check out this photo of a teenage Wayne Gretzky:

Gretzky and Bailey held a special relationship. The veteran Bailey was a bit of a cross between a big brother and a father figure for the teenage phenom. As you will read below, he once saved the rookie's butt from the wrath of their coach.

Outside of that special relationship, Bailey was likely destined to be a forgotten footnote in the history of hockey. He was a run of the mill role player with the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals back in the 1970s. He moved on to become a long time scout.

Then the unthinkable happened on September 11, 2001. Terrorists hijacked commercial airplanes and inconceivably crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The most dramatic footage was of United Airlines Flight 175. Caught on several amateur and professional cameras, the plane zoomed in on the second of the WTC Twin Towers, resulting in a fiery collision followed by shortly by the horrific collapse of the 110 story structure.

Such sickening events puts things such as the insignificance of such things as hockey in proper prospective. But the hockey world quickly learned that two of there own were among the victims on that particular flight. Los Angeles Kings scouts Mark Bavis and Garnet "Ace" Bailey were leaving Boston to attend the Kings training camp. They never made it.

Bavis was a former minor leaguer and Boston University alumni, but was largely unknown in the hockey community. Quietly he was an  up and comer in the scouting ranks and had a promising future in the game off the ice.

Bailey was a well known hockeyist, both in the internal community and among the fans and media - and not just because he shared the same name as the old Hall of Famer.

Bailey was a wonderful man to be around. He was a popular teammate when he played, and popular in retirement. He had an infectious love of life and of hockey, and it was well received by players, media and fans.

Garnet Bailey, who inherited the nickname Ace from unrelated hockey Hall of Famer Irvine "Ace" Bailey, was best known as a nice utility player who specialized as a defensive left winger. He also specialized in intangibles, both on and off the ice.

Born in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Bailey was a junior hockey star with the Edmonton Oil Kings from 1965 through 1967. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins 13th overall in the limited 1966 NHL Entry Draft.

Bailey spent the next two years apprenticing in the minors as the Bruins were quickly becoming a powerhouse, and a spot on the roster was not easy to acquire. However by 1969-70 Bailey found his niche as a defensive role player. It was good timing as the Bruins were on their way to the Stanley Cup championship, although Bailey did not play in the playoffs because of a broken ankle.

Injuries plagued Bailey for the 1970-71 season but he returned to full time duty in 1971-72, and again helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup. This time Bailey played in 13 post season games and contributed 6 points.

The Bruins traded Bailey late in the 1972-73 season to Detroit, and Detroit traded Bailey midway into the 1973-74 season to St. Louis. Despite getting off to his best start in his NHL career ( 41 points in the first 49 games easily eclipsed all of his career highs with 1/3rd of the season left to go) Bailey's stay with the Blues was again short as he was traded part way through the 1974-75 season to the awful Washington Capitals.

While the 1970s Capitals were perhaps one of the worst teams in hockey history, it was a good fit for Bailey, who got to play a lot more than he did with Boston.

The fact that the Capitals General Manager at the time was Milt Schmidt, the former Boston Bruin legend who Bailey had worked with before during the two Stanley Cup championships in the early 1970s.

"Ace is the kind of player you need when you're building a team," Schmidt said. "He's a good checker, a hard working digger and he can play center or the wing, whichever you want."

Bailey played with the Capitals until 1978 when he signed on with the Edmonton Oilers with the WHA. He played just 38 games in Edmonton, but has some good stories to tell.

An interesting story about Bailey occurred in the WHA where the likable veteran made a great impression on a young Wayne Gretzky.

The two were roommates and on one occasion overslept their pre-game nap. They woke up with just minutes before game time.

Gretzky, just a rookie, was in a natural panic, but the wily veteran Bailey seemed not too worried. He helped Gretzky get going and told him to go ahead and not worry about me.

Gretzky frantically made his way to the rink and got there just in time for the pre-game warm-up. The team skated for approximately 45 minutes, yet Bailey never showed up, much to Gretzky's dismay.

When the team left the ice, Gretzky walked back into the dressing room and was shocked to see Bailey sitting in his stall - fully equipped and sweating like he was out on the ice with the rest of them.

Gretz whispered into his ear "Ace, I didn't see you on the ice. Where were you?"

Even quieter, Bailey whispered back "I didn't get here until 5 minutes ago. So I put on my equipment and went into the shower and got all wet. They never even missed me!"

Gretzky has lots of stories about Bailey, who still a very good friend of his.

Like the time Bailey had rented a house in Edmonton without seeing it. After a few drinks with the guys,

Bailey and some others went to see the house, although they were all half inebriated. The key just wouldn't work. Bailey was using all his might to pry the garage door open while Cowboy Flett was on the roof trying to get in through a skylight. Next thing you know the cops showed up. It turned out to be the wrong house! Its pretty funny, but the elderly couple inside probably weren't amused.

Bailey certainly had his effect on a young Gretzky off the ice, but also served as an on ice protector as well. He was always the first player to step in if the teenage sensation was being abused. Ace wasn't a heavyweight by any means, but he always showed up.

Bailey played for brief stints in the Central Hockey League up until 1981 when he retired for good. All in all he had 107 goals, 171 assists and 278 points in 568 NHL games. He was a useful player and a great dressing room guy. He was real free spirit which probably angered his coaches at times.

No coach would admit to that now though. They, like anyone whoever had the immense pleasure of even a short visit with the jovial Ace, have dozens of great stories. It is those memories which we must remember and cherish.

"Ace was one of the most popular guys in the NHL, and he was a friend to all of us," former teammate Kevin Lowe said. "You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn't been touched by his incredible personality, and words simply can't express how we feel right now."

"Ace may not have been the greatest hockey player to play in the NHL but he taught many players how to win championships and more importantly, he was a winner as a person. We will all miss him greatly," said Gretzky

Garnet "Ace" Bailey died horrifically, as did 1000s of other innocent people. He is survived by his wife Kathy and a grown son. It is important the we do not forget Ace, the other victims, or the incidents themselves. We must not let their deaths go for not, we must reach for world peace.

Frank Beaton

Frank "Seldom" Beaton really lived up to his nickname.

Beaton was born in a town named Antigonish, Nova Scotia. No, not Anti-Goonish or even Antagonistic, which would have been a more fitting birthplace. Regarded by man as "The Attila The Hun of The West," Frank was one of the infamous "goons" of the 1970's era of hockey.

Frank created quite a stir early in his hockey career. As a junior during the 1971-72 season he played for the Sarnia Bees (OHL) and picked up 226 penalty minutes in only 49 games. It was pretty obvious that Frank's future in the pro ranks would be in the pugilistic department.

He played another year of junior (with Windsor) before becoming a pro. Without a NHL or WHA contract he literally fought his way through the low minor leagues with the Flint Generals of the IHL between 1973 and 1975.

Frank attended his first NHL training camp in 1974 in an attempt to make the Atlanta Flames. Frank's agent approached Atlanta's GM Cliff Fletcher with a typical Frank Beaton sale pitch:

"What do you need ? Do you need a guy who can put people into the building, stir up a little trouble?" Fletcher's reply was: "Who do you have in mind ?" Frank Beaton was the agent's answer.

Unfortunately for Frank, he wasn't the Flames answer. The man with the lightning quick fists was cut in training camp and instead went on to play for the Hampton Gulls of the SHL in 1975-76. There he clashed with virtually everybody and racked up a league high 276 PIMs in only 46 games.

But he also scored 17 goals in that time, turning some heads. The WHA Cincinnati Stingers needed some extra muscle and added Frank to their roster for the second half of the season. He played a total of 29 games there before he ran into problems.

One day he drove into a Cincinnati service station to fill his gas tank. His trouble began when the attendant missed the tank and spilled some gas on his Covrvette. An argument ensued and Frank decked the attendant with a vicious punch and knocked him out. Later on the attendant pressed charges against Frank and sued him for $48,000.

Beaton's arrest for that incident is almost unbelievable. During one game between the Birmingham Bulls and the Cincinnati Stingérs (WHA) he was arrested between the periods and had to spend five days in jail.

Frank looked back at that incident with a laugh.

"The guys in my cell thought it was humorous having a professional athlete in there with them. They even ironed my shirts for me," Frank said.

He also found it funny when he previously escaped the police when "I had to be taken out of the arena in an equipment bag to get away from the police."

Famed hockey writer Murray Greig always mentions Frank Beaton when naming the top ten toughest players in hockey history.

"He helped transform the Birmingham Bulls from doormats to demons," Greig wrote. "Small by heavyweight standards (five-foot-10, 190 pounds), Beaton was a bonafide bomber who could pummel an opponent non-stop for a full minute, then turn around and do the same to another one ... and another one. The WHA was like that."

Frank continued with his on ice fighting and led the WHA in penalty minutes when he got 274 for the Edmonton Oilers in 1976-77.

His first NHL shot came when he was signed by the New York Rangers as a free agent on July 28, 1978. He got a two game call-up to the Rangers during the 1978-79 season and spend the rest of the season in the minors where he played for the New Haven Nighthawks and got 319 PIMs.

Frank managed to play 23 games for the Rangers the following season. He even scored one goal for the Blueshirts, which proved to be his only NHL goal of his career. Frank continued to play in the minor leagues for a couple of seasons until he decided it was time to retire in 1983.

"I especially loved playing in Madison Square Garden," he told Jen Conway at Slap Shot Diaries. "The fans there are just rabid and the building was electric. I’m sorry my time there didn’t last longer. We had some pretty wild games.I still remember being part of the melee that resulted in the Bruins in the stands and Mike Milbury hitting a guy with a shoe. I scored my only NHL goal in Vancouver, so I never got to hear the Garden cheer a goal of mine. I wish I could have heard that, but I only got one."

Frank won't go down in history as a great player but he sure made his mark in the penalty minute department. During his 10 pro seasons he collected a 2291 PIMs in only 683 games, plus 208 PIMs in 66 playoff games.

He lives in Birmingham nowadays and his hobby is a little less violent these days - he enjoys playing the bagpipes.

Bryan Muir

Bryan Muir was not your typical fighter in the hockey world.

No, his fight came off the ice back when he was a youth. From the ages of 10 through 14 he suffered through a little known condition called Graves' disease, in which the immune system targets certain tissues, attacks them and causes over-activity of the thyroid gland. 

"How the doctors explained (the disease) to me was that it was like having a car in neutral with the gas pedal floored." he said. "My body was going a million miles an hour but it wasn't going anywhere. It was eating itself away. My heart rate was 110 at rest and my hair was falling out." 

Even as a youth Muir's biggest worry was not being able to play hockey with his friends. He was completely off the ice for two consecutive years, though he returned once doctors got the condition under control. 

He not only returned, but became one of the best players in the province of Manitoba. He earned a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, where he played three seasons before joining the Canadian national team in 1995.

That was just the start. Though he was never drafted by a NHL team he accepted a try out with the Edmonton Oilers that led to a NHL contract offer.

Though he played mostly in the minor leagues while with the Oilers system, his hard work paid off time and again with contract offers. When all was said and done he pieced together a 15 year professional career including stops in New Jersey, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Colorado, Washington and Los Angeles, as well as Europe.

The highlight had to be the spring of 2001. Though he played just 22 games with the Avalanche all season long, he played in every one of Colorado's 21 playoff games as they defeated the New Jersey Devils to win the Stanley Cup. 

"The day we won that Cup was something to behold, I was blessed to be part of that team," said Muir, who played 279 NHL games as well 29 more in the playoffs.

Of course, that was the year most people were watching a slightly better known defenseman win his first Stanley Cup - Ray Bourque.

 "Ray was crying hoisting the trophy up after (captain) Joe Sakic handed it to him and I was almost in tears myself," Muir said. "To see a guy who worked 22 years to get it and earn it, that was an elating feeling for me to watch him do it and be part of it with him. He's a class individual and one of the best people I've ever played with. He's a true leader and a good person all-around."

Muir's only full NHL season came in 2005-06 when he played 72 games with Washington.  And to prove his true journeyman status, you only had to look out in the parking lot. While most of his teammates were driving some pretty sweet rides, he was driving a dusty 1997 Volkswagon Cabriolet he borrowed from his parents.

"Hey, it gets me around from Point A to Point B," he said trying to defend himself. "Yeah, I've caught some slack. You look out in that parking lot and see all of those nice cars with big rims, then I come driving in with my Volkswagen and 14-inch, pizza-cutter rims. It's kind of funny."

Teammate Ben Clymer said "It's the worst car in the NHL, hands down. It might be the worst car in pro hockey, even the minor leaguers have better cars."

Muir could laugh about the car. After all, he survived a lot worse in life.

Muir retired in 2009 and now sells a U.S. hedge fund and advises a service that provides content for financial newsletters.

Rocky Dundas

A lot of people in hockey - fans and players alike - believe hockey is a religion.

Rocky Dundas knows better.

The Montreal Canadiens drafted Dundas 47th overall in the 1985 NHL draft. He was a six foot tall, 195 pound right winger from the Western Hockey League with a reputation to score 30 goals, tally over a point a game and play with a physical edge. He was a nice piece of the Medicine Hat Tigers' Memorial Cup championship team in 1987, along with Trevor Linden, Wayne McBean and Mark Fitzpatrick.

Some had him ranked a lot higher than the 3rd round, but somehow he slipped. He was so disappointed that he actually left the draft proceedings at the rink when the Canadiens called his name.

Disappointment would continue on for Dundas as a pro. In order to find a roster spot in the minor leagues he found himself dropping the skill elements from his game and playing very physically. Increasingly that meant fighting, something he was quickly getting labelled for.

But he was never comfortable with it. After two seasons with Montreal's farm team he jumped at the chance to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in 1989, hoping things would improve.

Things did improve in the sense that he scored 18 goals in 63 games with the farm team in Newmarket and got called up to the Leafs for his first five NHL games.

But when the Leafs made it clear his future in the organization rested on his ability to fight and play physically, Dundas made a tough choice that really was not so tough at all. He quit playing hockey.

“I didn’t want to do that anymore,” said Dundas. “I still had a couple of years left on my contract, but I had an internal choice to make. It was an easy choice in the sense that I didn’t want to fight any more.”

Dundas walked away from the game in 1989. He became a youth pastor in Richmond Hill, Ontario. He also obtained a Masters Degree in Adolescent Education, which he used to tackle youth issues be it as a coach, pastor and community member.

Interestingly, one of the issues he had to deal with was his own son's hockey career. Justice Dundas was a junior level player in both the OHL and QMJHL who earned a reputation for fighting. He was never drafted into the NHL nor played professionally.

Rocky Dundas also formed his own sportswear line before joining the Trimark Sportswear Group as a national sales manager.

Ryan Vandenbussche

Ryan Vandenbussche played 14 seasons of pro hockey and over 300 games in the National Hockey League.

There was no mistaking the lack of subtleties in his game. He was always going to be remembered for his physicality and his ability to fight. He made a name for himself in his very first NHL fight, ending the career of long time tough guy Nick Kypreos.

"I came in as a rookie, and I had nothing to lose, really. I just had something to prove," Vandenbussche told WildXtra.com. "It was my second exhibition game, and they didn’t bring me up there to score goals, so I had to show what I could do.

"My target was actually gonna be (Tie) Domi, but he wasn’t playing that game. Nick Kypreos was the next one I figured I could show my stuff. So yep, the game started, and I’m a young guy trying to prove myself. Nick was a guy that’s been around for a long time, and he’s just trying to keep his job. Unfortunately, I did tag him on the jaw with a decent one, but it could’ve easily been me. I’ve been hit like that before too, and lemme tell ya, it doesn’t feel very good. But I’m glad everyone is okay now."

Kypreos, left unconscious and bloodied on the ice, never returned to the game, while Vandenbussche and this incident became a national headline in the hockey violence story.

“You never, ever want to end a guy’s career, especially in that nature,” VandenBussche said. “I’ll never forget that feeling of going to the penalty box, looking back and seeing what I saw. And I’m going to be quite honest with you, it made me sick to my stomach."

But it did not stop him from continuing to fight in order to achieve his dream of the NHL.

Vandenbussche understood what his job was.

"I want to bring energy to the team whenever I take a shift. Whether it's forechecking or dropping the gloves, I want to provide a spark for the guys and make sure everything is kept honest out there."

The fear of concussions never stopped him either.

"A guy that’s used sparingly in the lineup, and when he does get in the lineup, and say I were to drop the gloves and I were to take a blow to the head, and it did give me a concussion, unless it was real obvious, I’m not saying nothing. I kept it to myself. I didn’t tell the trainer. So that was my doing, because I wanted to stay in the league. I didn’t want the team to have any excuse to get rid of me."

Vandenbussche grew up not far from Toronto, idolizing Wendel Clark. You could see Vandenbussche's game was patterned after the Maple Leafs' great, if only in physicality. Vandenbussche never had the shot or offensive instincts of Clark.

Though drafted by Toronto Vandenbussche only toiled in the minor leagues. He signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers in 1996 and made sporadic appearances over the next few years.

It was not until Vandenbussche joined the Chicago Blackhawks that he became a NHL regular, playing from 1999 through 2004. He participated in 310 games, though he proudly proclaims he was on the roster for over 600 contests. He spent as much time on the injured list or, worse yet for any hockey player, a healthy scratch.

Vandenbussche retired in 2007, after brief stints with Pittsburgh, the minor leagues and Finland.

Vandenbussche and his wife have become real estate agents in Ontario. He was also looking for opportunities to coach.

"I want to use what I've learned through my 10-year NHL career to help young people. I am hopeful I will be given another opportunity to coach so I can not only help young men become better hockey players but also better people."

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