By John Council
For the better part of three decades, Ace Bailey's 1975 NHL hockey card sat in the top drawer of a dresser in my childhood bedroom.
The card was extremely cheap, so bad that it had perforated edges where it had once been attached to other cards presumably featuring other members of the St. Louis Blues. Still, this object caught my attention every time I saw it among the broken Hot Wheels cars and cap guns I'd stuffed in this junk drawer. In it, Bailey's flowing blonde hair is poking out of a white helmet (something that was still optional in the 1975 NHL) flapping in the wind as he's skating with his stick in both hands looking like a Viking on a conquest.
To me, Bailey's card might as well have been a rock from the moon. I got it in 1978 at a garage sale from our across-the-street neighbors who'd recently moved in from hockey-mad Philadelphia. In 1978 Richardson, Texas, hockey cards were hard to get. It was 15 years before the Dallas Stars would move to town. NHL games weren't even shown on TV in the southern US yet. None of my friends played hockey or knew anything about it. I had no earthly idea who Bailey was, that St. Louis had a hockey team, or if Bailey was any good.
But I never forgot his name because, how could I? Ace Bailey is one cool-ass name.
As it turns out, there were two Ace Baileys that played in the NHL. Of course, both of them were Canadian. And both of them were cool.
The first one, Irwin Wallace "Ace" Bailey, grew up in Ontario and played eight seasons at right wing for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1926 to 1933. He led the team in scoring for most of those seasons and helped the team hoist up the Stanley Cup in 1932. Sadly, his career in the NHL came to an end on December 12, 1933 when he was hit from behind by Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins. After the hit, Bailey's helmet-less head slammed onto the ice fracturing his skull and giving him convulsions. The injury was so bad that it was feared Bailey wouldn't live. Shore was suspended for 16 games but wound up shaking hands with Bailey at Maple Leaf Gardens the next month at a benefit game which raised $20,000 for Bailey's family. The Leafs organization loved Bailey so much that his jersey number 6 was the first to ever be retired in professional sports.
The second one, Garnet Edward "Ace" Bailey, grew up in Saskatchewan and is best known for his time playing left wing for the Boston Bruins in the early 1970's along with Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Gerry Cheevers. He won the Stanley Cup twice with the Bruins in 1970 and 1972.
He was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings and knocked around the league for a total of 20 years, including two seasons with the Blues, before playing his final game in the NHL in 1978 with the Washington Capitals.
Bailey met his wife Kathy when she was a flight attendant while he was still with the Bruins, later became an NHL scout and was happiest hanging out in his backyard in Lynnfield, Massachusetts where he raised chickens, hens, turkeys and ducks like the Canadian farm kid he was.
He was working as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and was heading back to LA on September 11, 2001 when he boarded United Airlines Flight 175. That plane was hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists and crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center killing all 65 people on board. Bailey was 53 years old.
Ten years later, his widow told the Boston Globe that Bailey had such a big and unforgettable personality that she still has conversations with him in her head. It's like he's always there for her.
“He still talks to me,’’ said Kathy Bailey, who met her husband-to-be when she was a flight attendant, and the Bruins, fresh from a matinee at Madison Square Garden, were on her flight to Boston. “Ace was such a presence, so of course you’re still going to hear him. How could you not? It’s not like you can put him in a drawer."