Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Garnet “Ace” Bailey, who played 568 NHL games before working in scouting with the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings, was one of 65 people on board United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower of New York’s World Trade Center.
Ace Bailey was only with the St. Louis Blues for a calendar year, but left a last impression on one of the team’s young goaltenders.
John Davidson was an NHL rookie in 1973-74 and met Bailey after the veteran forward was traded from Detroit in February of that season. Davidson quickly learned that Bailey was someone you’d want to be around and someone who was a great addition to any dressing room.
“[He was] full of everything,” the Blue Jackets president of hockey operations told NBC Sports this week. “Full of energy, full of stories, full of jokes, full of joking around — just full of life. Ace was just a great guy. I remember him as a player. He was a strong skating player who had a wicked, wicked shot, and that wasn’t fun to play against in practice. Traveling with Ace and being in the locker room with Ace, he just was fun. He brought a sense of humor to just about everything.”
That personality meshed well with those Blues teams, which featured some of hockey’s most colorful characters like Don Awrey, Steve Durbano, and the Plager brothers, Barclay and Bobby.
Bailey fit right in.
“It was never, ever, ever boring. Never,” Davidson recalled. “You couldn’t be bored if you were around Ace. He made a lot of friends in hockey.”
Bailey wasn’t just a guy who lightened the mood in the room, he was also a very good hockey player. During his short time in St. Louis he scored 22 goals and recorded 51 points in 71 games. He could also protect his teammates as shown by his 113 penalty minutes and five misconducts.
“He could skate well. He could shoot. He could do a little bit of everything, whatever you wanted,” Davidson said. “Just a true character of the times. There were a lot of characters in hockey back then, and he was right up at the top of the list. He just didn’t have a bad day.”
The Blues traded Bailey to the Washington Capitals almost exactly one year after acquiring him from the Red Wings. He would later join the World Hockey Association’s Edmonton Oilers in 1978-79 and play with Wayne Gretzky during his first professional season.
Shortly after his playing days ended Bailey would become a pro scout for the Oilers after they joined the NHL and later took on the role of Director of Professional Scouting for the Kings. It was on September 11, 2001 that Bailey and Mark Bavis, one of the team’s amateur scouts, were set to travel to Los Angeles from Boston’s Logan Airport when the attacks happened.
On that Tuesday morning, Davidson recalled being in his home office in Bedford, New York when he heard about the second plane — the one carrying Bailey and Bavis — hitting the South Tower. Later that morning Gretzky phoned Davidson to inform him that there was a very good chance Bailey was one of the people on board.
“It was just devastating,” he said.
A little over a week later, Davidson was on a plane headed to Philadelphia for a Rangers’ preseason game. He remembers looking down along the side of Manhattan and noticing the smoke still billowing from the rubble.
“It was surreal,” he said. “And then for the next good while, there was just funerals everywhere. Everywhere there were funerals. Everybody knew somebody that had past away. My daughters, one of their best friend’s father; [then-Rangers assistant general manager] Don Maloney’s brother-in-law [Tom Palazzo]. We all know somebody. It drew people together and the sadness and domino effect of everything — it was something. The whole country felt it, the whole world felt it, but when you were around New York, that’s when you really felt it.”
Those in the hockey community who knew Bailey have kept the same thought for the last two decades. They believe Bailey would have not sat by as his plane was being hijacked.
“He wouldn’t have been sitting in his seat, I’ll tell you that,” Davidson said. “Not him. He would have been trying to do something. There’s not a chance that Ace Bailey would have been sitting in his seat with his seatbelt on. He would have been trying to do something to save them all.”