‘Full of life’: John Davidson remembers former teammate Ace Bailey

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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.”

Ace Bailey
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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.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.