With yesterday being 9/11 I thought I would put up an article of Gretzky speaking about Ace Bailey. RIP Ace
Garnet (Ace) Bailey, 53, was aboard United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. He was in his eighth year as director of pro scouting for the Los Angeles Kings, but he was better known as a hard-nosed left wing who played 10 seasons in the NHL. In five years with the Boston Bruins (1968-69 through '72-73), Bailey was on two Stanley Cup winners. He spent '78-79, his final pro season, with the Edmonton Oilers, who were then in the World Hockey Association and had a rookie named Wayne Gretzky. Here's Gretzky's fond remembrance of his teammate.
I learned a lot of things that first year in Edmonton, and nobody taught me more than Ace Bailey. I was 17 and he was 30, and he was everything to me—father, teammate, roommate, friend. He taught me about being tough and loyal and about enjoying life. That year we began to build a lasting friendship.
From Day One, Ace took care of me. He told me how to dress and how to act, and I was smart enough to listen. I cared so much about his opinion. He used to brag about me to his friends in Boston. He'd say, "Wait'll you see this kid play," and I never wanted to let Ace down.
I probably ate a meal at his house every day when the Oilers were home: me; Ace; his wife, Katherine; and Todd, their baby son. Ace was a gourmet cook. He could make anything taste like a chef's specialty: fish, vegetables, all kinds of steak.
One day I was at Ace's house before dinner. It was late December, and Katherine told him he had to find a Christmas tree. So Ace took me into his backyard, and we chopped down a tree and hauled it into the house. I'll never forget, after Christmas, watching Ace trying to nail that tree back onto its stump.
Everybody knew that an opposing player had to go through Ace to get to me. That was true even when it came to our team. A couple of hours before I was to sign my 21-year contract with the Oilers, in 1979, Ace pulled me aside and said, " Wayne, don't do it; they're not paying you enough." My family had come out for the press conference and everything was set, so I said, "What should I do?" He said, "Fake your name on the signature." I thought he was kidding because Ace would kid a lot—but he was serious. I went ahead and signed the deal and everything worked out great, but if Ace thought anyone was messing with me, he didn't stand for it.
Ace always talked about the winning goal he scored in Game 1 of the 1972 finals, when the Bruins beat the New York Rangers to take the Stanley Cup, but by the time I played with him, he was near the end of his career. He had bad knees, and he couldn't do much offensively. He was as tough as ever, though.
Ace wasn't that big, only 5'11" and about 190 pounds, but he may have been the strongest man I ever played with. One night during my rookie year, we were in Quebec City, and this huge guy, Gilles Bilodeau, kept running me, knocking me around. I weighed about 146 pounds, and Bilodeau must have been 220. Ace didn't get a lot of ice time that night—in those days you didn't use fourth-line players much—and he was getting angrier and angrier at Bilodeau. Finally, Ace told me, "Next time you have the puck, get that guy to chase you and skate in front of our bench."
So I did that, and a second after I went by, I heard the whistle blow and I looked back. Bilodeau was flat on the ice, and Ace and the other guys were all looking into the stands as if someone had thrown something at Bilodeau and they were trying to figure out what had happened. Ace had clocked him with his stick when he skated past.
On another trip to Quebec City we overslept before the pregame skate. Ace pulled me out of bed, helped me get dressed and pushed me out the door. I barely made it to the skate on time, and when I came into the dressing room after the workout, Ace was sitting there in his gear, sweating. I said, "Ace, what happened? You weren't even out there on the ice." He'd come into the room during practice, took a shower and then pulled his gear on while he was still wet. He made me swear not to tell the coaches. "I'm telling you, they never missed me out there," he said.
It's so sad and ironic that Ace died in an airplane because he helped me more than anyone else when I had that fear of flying. About the only thing that soothed me was that I sat next to Ace on every flight. He was so strong and calm, and when he told me that everything would be O.K., I believed him. Maybe he wanted me to calm down for another reason: A couple of times I fell asleep on the plane, and Ace covered me with shaving cream. Another time he stole my shoes, so I had to walk through the Atlanta airport barefoot.
I played with him only that one year, but our friendship got stronger over time. When he was a scout for Edmonton and living on the East Coast, [ Oilers coach and general manager] Glen Sather would fly him in if I was in a slump. Glen knew that seeing Ace would put the light back in my eyes and get me going again. I had a special relationship with Ace, but you ask anyone who was on the Oilers back then—Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson—and you'll find that they all loved to see him too. He had this enthusiasm that got everyone fired up.
In the summer of 1987 I stayed with Ace for about a week at his house in Lynnfield, near Boston. He was like the mayor of the town. People kept calling him for favors. He'd chop wood for one lady, pick up groceries for another, cook lunch for a neighbor who couldn't get out of his house. When we went out, it took us an hour and a half to drive a distance that should have taken 20 minutes because he knew everyone and we kept stopping to say hello.
After I was traded to the Kings [in 1988], I tried to get him to work for us. Things would have been better for him financially in Los Angeles, but he was loyal to Edmonton and didn't want to leave. In '94 I finally persuaded him to come, and after he signed with the Kings, he spent a couple of weeks living in my house in L.A. We would sit outside, smoke cigars, sip wine and look up at the stars. He said, " Wayne, even I never thought we'd make it like this."
I talked to Todd a few hours after Ace's plane crashed, and it was so sad and hard and unbelievable. Ace had a photo of me and Todd that he kept on the mantel. Todd was about 1�, and he was bopping me on the head with a toy hockey stick. I always teased Todd that the picture proved he was also a tough s.o.b.
Whenever they find out what happened on that flight, I guarantee you one thing: Ace was not at the back of that plane. I'd bet my life that he rallied some people together and fought those guys tooth and nail before the plane went down. Anyone who knew him would make the same bet. That was Ace Bailey.