Lives Lived: Garnet (Ace) Bailey
By ERIC DUHATSCHEK
Thursday, September 13, 2001
Hockey player, Stanley Cup champion, raconteur, director of pro scouting for the Los Angeles Kings. Born June 13, 1948, Lloydminster, Sask. Died Sept 11 in New York during a terrorist attack, aged 53.
His first name was Garnet, but the only person who ever called him that was his first professional coach, Harry Sinden. That came in the fall of 1969 when Bailey -- known to the rest of the hockey world simply as Ace -- joined the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League after a two-year minor-league apprenticeship.
He'd been an excellent junior prospect who played three seasons for the Edmonton Oil Kings, twice qualifying for the Memorial Cup championships. Chosen by the Bruins 13th overall in the 1966 amateur draft, he made a strong first impression on his future teammates during training camp in London, Ont.
Early in camp, two goaltenders saw the teenage dervish whirling around the ice, and asked, "Who is this guy?" The general manager, Milt Schmidt, assured them: "Don't worry, he'll make."
He did, too, not so much because of his playing skills, but because of his willingness to stand up and protect his teammates. Ace's timing was serendipitous -- he arrived during the era of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, a team known far and wide as the big, bad Bruins. Ace wasn't big (5'11", 192 lbs was considered average for that era) but he could be bad.
Once, when he was riding shotgun for Wayne Gretzky on the Edmonton Oilers, an opposition forward was trying to shadow the Great One, then just 18. Ace counselled Gretzky to lure the player nearer to the Oilers' bench. Suddenly, he was flat on his back on the ice, Ace having reached out and straight-armed him as he skated past.
While he was with the Bruins -- often on the bench -- the team won two Stanley Cups. Ace was eventually traded to Detroit, then St. Louis, then Washington, before completing his professional career with the 78-79 Oilers, where he played for half-a-season with Gretzky. After retirement, Ace coached for two years in the Oilers' minor-league system in Houston and Wichita; he eventually followed Gretzky to Los Angeles and spent the next eight years as the Kings' director of professional scouting.
An endless succession of arenas, hotels and airports means long-time members of the fraternity develop a clubby familiarity. The last time I saw Ace was back in May during the second round of the NHL playoffs. Over eight days, staying at the same hotels, eating in the same bars, we talked. More precisely, Ace talked. His favourite story came from that final season when he and Gretzky were roommates.
One night, the two players didn't get their wake-up call until 50 minutes before game time. Ace shook his younger teammate awake and urged him to race off to the rink. Ace followed at a more leisurely pace, arriving during the warmup. As Gretzky and the other Oilers filed off the ice from the pregame skate, they saw Ace, fully dressed and perspiring as if he had just completed a full workout. How come? Ace confessed he'd put on his equipment while his pals were on the ice and then went into the shower. "And the coaches never even missed me," he cackled.
On Tuesday, because he slept in back home in Lynnfield, Mass., Ace nearly missed his flight, United Airlines 175 from Boston to Los Angeles. He got to the airport with minutes to spare. The plane was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center's South Tower. That a man so full of life could come to such an end has unnerved all who knew him. He leaves his wife, Katherine, a Boston-area travel agent, and their son, Todd.
Eric Duhatschek, a sportswriter for globeandmail.com, has known Ace Bailey since Mr. Bailey was a scout for the Oilers.