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A Great Friend A HALL OF FAMER RECOUNTS A ROOKIE YEAR SPENT UNDER THE WING OF ACE BAILEY THAT MADE THEM PALS EVER AFTER

Sept. 24, 2001
Sept. 24, 2001

Table of Contents
Sept. 24, 2001

The Week That Sports Stood Still

A Great Friend A HALL OF FAMER RECOUNTS A ROOKIE YEAR SPENT UNDER THE WING OF ACE BAILEY THAT MADE THEM PALS EVER AFTER

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.

This is an article from the Sept. 24, 2001 issue Original Layout

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 1/2, 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.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY TONY TRIOLO A REAL ACE Bailey, who played 10 seasons in the NHL, scored the winning goal for the Bruins in Game 1 of the 1972 Stanley Cup finals.COLOR PHOTO: JUAN OCAMPO/LOS ANGELES KINGS/AP