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.

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