The Edmonton Oilers, Garnet “Ace” Bailey, and the tragic connection to September 11th
Photo credit:Tim Dillon-USA TODAY / Edmonton Oilers
By Zach Laing10 days ago
Twenty-two years ago today the world as we knew it changed forever when al-Qaeda terrorists claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people in a series of methodical attacks on the United States.
The impact of two hours’ worth of events had wide-reaching impacts that stretched far and wide around the world with victims from over 90 countries perishing in the attacks. Among those were 24 Canadians, none from Edmonton, but that didn’t mean the effects of the attacks reached Alberta’s capital.
At the time of the attacks, two figures in the hockey world were aboard United Airlines Flight 175 — Garnet “Ace” Bailey, and Mark Bavis — both members of the LA Kings organization who were heading back to the west coast from Boston when their flight was hijacked before crashing into the South Tower. Both perished.
Bailey, 53, was the Kings’ director of pro scouting, while Bavis 31, was set to enter his third year of pro scouting when their lives were taken far too soon
“Ace” was set to enter his eighth year at the helm of the Kings’ pro scouting department at the time of the attack, and did so after a long career in the hockey world. It was he whose connections ran deep in Edmonton back to his days as Wayne Gretzky’s roommate and de-facto bodyguard.
Born on June 13th, 1948 in Lloydminster, Alta., Bailey played his major junior hockey with the Edmonton Oil Kings helping the team win the 1966 Memorial Cup knocking off the Bobby Orr-led Oshawa Generals. While Bailey and Orr would play opposite each other here, they would soon play together in Boston, where Orr signed for the following season.
Bailey, meanwhile, would be drafted by Boston 13th overall that year and broke into the NHL two years later. He would win Stanley Cups in Boston in 1970 and 1972, and in the first year after his second win, he would find his way to the Detroit Red Wings by way of trade in the middle of the season.
Garnet “Ace” Bailey is pictured hoisting the Stanley Cup.
But 1972 was significant for another reason as Bailey was among the 1,037 hockey players from around the world taken in the 121-round WHA draft. Notably, he was one of the 33 NHLers and one of the 26 former Oil Kings selected by the Edmonton Oilers, with Bill Hunter’s thinking that drafting players who already had some roots in the city, would entice them to join the WHA if present contracts could be matched.
Bailey was the Oilers’ first-round selection in the draft, but the team wasn’t able to entice him to leave the NHL. He would bounce around the NHL between the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, before he found himself at 30 years old and unbeknownst to him, entering his final year of pro hockey.
He attended the Bruins’ training camp ahead of the 1978-79 season but didn’t make the team opting to take his game to the WHA Oilers. He would play in 38 games that year for the team scoring five goals and nine points, but he had lost a step in his game despite playing alongside the rookie sensation Gretzky.
He wasn’t just Gretzky’s linemate, though, he was his roommate, and bodyguard. Here’s an excerpt from a Sept. 12, 2001 edition of the Edmonton Journal, in which Jim Matheson paid tribute to Bailey.
It was Bailey who counselled the suddenly gun-shy Gretzky before he signed that 20-year contract with Peter Pocklington in 1979 on his 18th birthday. Gretzky wasn’t sure he wanted to be tied up for that long.“If you’re not sure, don’t sign it,” said Ace.“But I’ve got to. They’re having a ceremony on the ice and everything,” said Gretzky.“So sign “Bob Smith,'”joked Bailey.Gretzky didn’t, but the W on Wayne looked an awful lot like a B when he signed the contract as the TV cameras shot away.It was also Bailey who looked after Gretzky in the games. One night, somebody was checking Gretzky too hard and Ace told No. 99 to lead the player past the bench when he was going up the ice.Next thing you know, the player was out cold.“Colder than a popsicle,” said Gretzky.Ace clobbered the player from the bench with his stick.When the ref noticed, Ace started screaming: “Somebody do something. Somebody threw something from the crowd,” said Bailey.
An Edmonton Journal article from Sept. 12, 2001 eulogizes former Edmonton Oilers player and scout Garnet “Ace” Bailey who perished in the attack on the Twin Towers the day before.
Bailey’s playing days had all but wrapped up after that season. He ended up heading to the CHL’s Houston Apollos as player-assistant coach lacing up for seven games, and took a head coaching role with the Wichita Wind of the same league the following year.
But with the Oilers now in the NHL, they came calling in 1981 adding Bailey to the pro scouting staff. In the 1988 Stanley Cup Finals, Bailey was leaned upon to provide much of the information that helped the team not only go up 3-0 in the series but win the Stanley Cup.
His tenure wasn’t written much about before he left for the Kings, but the impact that he left on the city was significant.
“Ace may not have been the greatest hockey player to play in the NHL, but he taught many how to win championships and more importantly, he was a winner as a person,” said Gretzky in a Sept. 12, 2001 edition of the Edmonton Journal.
Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe was at a loss for words.
“Ace was one of the most popular guys in the NHL and he was a friend to all of us,” he said in the aforementioned paper. “You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been touched by his incredible personality.
“Words can’t express how we feel right now.”
Bailey had narrowly missed his fateful flight, too. In a Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Edmonton Journal, Bruins GM Harry Sinden said he dropped Bailey off at Logan Airport “with two minutes to spare.”
Bailey’s legacy in the NHL lives on to this day. The LA Kings’ mascot, Bailey, is aptly named after their former pro scout wearing an “AM” patch on his chest honouring Ace, as well as Bavis.
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at email@example.com.
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