January 24, 2011

The Ace Bailey Benefit Game

December 12th, 1933. The Boston Gardens plays hosts to the hometown Bruins and the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. When the puck drops no one in attendance or on the ice knows that they are about to witness, or partake in, one of the most infamous moments in hockey history.

This is the game when the Bruins' great defender Eddie Shore ended the career, and nearly the life, of the Leafs' Ace Bailey. In a wild fit of rage Shore attacks Bailey, mistaking him for King Clancy who initially irritated him. It was a basic slew-foot - as simple as it was unsportsmanlike. But as Bailey fell he hit his head on the ice with, according to the Leafs Red Horner, "a sickening thud." Bailey had fractured his skull and laid twisted and twitching in a seizure-like state, blood spilling onto the ice.

Bailey had two brain operations and hovered between life and death for 10 days. At one point a priest was brought in to administer the last rites. Bailey eventually recovered to live a normal life but his hockey career was finished.

The legacy of the terrible Bailey-Shore incident is the NHL All Star game. First suggested by Montreal Journal sports editor Walter Gilhooley, an all-star benefit game was held at Maple Leaf Gardens on February 14, 1934. This was 13 years before the NHL would introduce an annual all-star game. 14,074 fans attended game, raising, nearly $21,000 for Bailey and his family. The Bruins donated an additional $6,000 in a different fund-raiser.

In the game's most memorable moment, Bailey and Shore shook hands and embraced at centre ice before the game began. The crowd was apprehensively quiet as Shore was introduced, but upon Bailey's embrace the crowd "went wild." Bailey had never held any grudge against Shore

After the pre-game introductions and team photos, Conn Smythe handed Bailey his jersey #6 and announced, "allow me to present this sweater that you have worn so long and nobly for the Maple Leafs. No other player will ever use this number on the Maple Leaf hockey team." It was the first retired number in hockey history.

Not surprisingly the established Maple Leafs team (wearing special "Ace" sweaters) defeated the all star team of newcomers by a score of 7-3. Busher Jackson led the way with 2 goals

The All Stars included Shore, Charlie Gardiner, Frank Finnigan, Aurel Joliat, Herbie Lewis, Ching Johnson, Lionel Conacher, Nels Stewart, Hooley Smith, Normie Himes, Red Dutton, Larry Aurie, Bill Cooke, Al Shields, Jimmy Ward and Howie Morenz.

Fans were also treated to intermission figure skating and barrel jumping displays.

By the way: Did  you know that Shore, too, left that game bleeding and unconscious, thanks to one punch from an irate Red Horner. Furthermore, according to Andrew Podniek's in his book "The NHL All Star Game," Boston police investigated the incident and had informed Shore that in the event of Bailey's death he would be charged with manslaughter.

Shore had another problem coming his way, although he likely did not know about it at the time. Bailey's father was so enraged about the incident that he boarded the first train to Boston carrying a loaded gun, vowing to kill Eddie Shore. Fortunately for everyone, Frank Selke was able to diffuse the situation with the help of a friend from the Boston police department.

Shore, who always claimed he was himself in a dazed state when he committed the horrific foul, was said to have been distraught over the injury. The anxiety seemed to only get worse as he repeatedly tried to visit Bailey in the hospital., but doctors feared Bailey could not handle the excitement. Shore, who was suspended indefinitely at the time, headed to Bermuda to escape.

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