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Remembering Ace Bailey & Mark Bavis Helps Us Find the Positives on 9/11 Anniversary

By Scott Lowe - MYHockeyRankings.com

USA Today Photo

Like most people who were alive on Sept. 11, 2001, the unthinkable and devastating events of that day have had a lasting impact on me.

Every year about this time I find myself reliving the horrors of that day, re-watching the footage we have seen so many times, listening to the stories of the survivors and learning about the legacies those whose lives were lost in the terrorist attacks that shook the United States.

For the first few years after 9/11, reliving those images brought about feelings of unwavering anger and deep sadness.

The death and devastation still were too fresh. The memories of the pain and suffering still all too vivid. The evidence of our nation’s vulnerability still readily apparent. The lack of understanding as to how and why something so catastrophic could happen on our own soil still elicited feelings of fear and bewilderment.

In short, the emotions elicited on that fateful day when more than 2,900 innocent victims perished would come rushing back to the surface. It was extremely difficult to watch, even several years later, but I felt that it was necessary and important that we never forget.

Today, 20 years later, I still feel that way. It also was important to me that my kids, who were almost 1 and 3 years old at the time of the attacks, understood the gravity of what happened that day and the vulnerability that can be created by taking our freedom and way of life for granted and letting our guard down.

As the years passed, however, I found myself looking more for the positives that resulted from those attacks. The incredible acts of bravery and heroism. The legacies left by those who were lost and how their families and loved ones honored those legacies with good deeds and by helping others in need. How we came together as a nation and rallied behind those who threw caution to the wind for the benefit of others. The feelings of patriotism and togetherness that emerged in the immediate aftermath. The stories of those who assisted and saved others only to be reunited years later with no expectation of so much as a thank you.  

There’s no doubt that one of the most reprehensible acts in world history brought the best out in so many people. The sad part about that, of course, is that it often takes something horrible to elicit that type of response. You hope we learn from that and maintain those feelings of unity and togetherness going forward, but unfortunately those sentiments often fade over the years as the anger dissipates.

For me, the memory of that day is etched permanently and vividly in my mind. I can close my eyes and visualize everything as if it’s unfolding again right in front of me.

It was a bright, beautiful, sun-drenched day here in Maryland as I made the seven-minute drive to my office. In fact, it seemed even brighter than usual. The sky was a sparkling shade of blue. No matter how far you looked toward the horizon or which direction you turned, not a cloud was visible anywhere.  

September of 2001 marked my second anniversary working for baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. He was in the last year of his storied career with the Baltimore Orioles, and I was in charge of running his baseball camps and helping develop the youth baseball initiatives he would pursue when his playing days were done. Little did I know as I drove to work that what was about to happen would ultimately prolong his career by about a week and allow him to play his last game in front of the hometown fans, myself included, at Camden Yards instead of Yankee Stadium.

It must have been about 9 a.m. when I walked into the office that day. A television was on, and it appeared that a breaking news story was being covered. By the time my eyes focused, I watched in real time as the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, flew directly into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

I turned to a co-worker and asked if that was a replay of what had already happened. No one seemed to know what was going on, but I quickly deduced that within minutes that two separate planes each had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.

“That’s no coincidence,” I said to myself and whoever else might be listening. “Those are terrorists. We’re being attacked.”

At that point, without hesitation, I turned around, went back out to my car and drove straight to my son’s preschool. I walked in and told the folks at the front desk that I was pulling him out of class. No one objected. Everyone was stunned. All we knew as that something wasn’t right, and we couldn’t be sure at that point if anyone on American soil was safe.

Living 50 miles north of Washington, D.C., and the same distance east of Camp David didn’t make the situation any more comforting. Within minutes of picking up my son Devin, now an NCAA Division III hockey player at Suffolk University in Boston, the news of another plane crashing into the Pentagon broke. Rumors were flying that Camp David, our state house in Annapolis, the World Trade Center 12 miles away in downtown Baltimore, the White House and the U.S. Capitol might be the next targets.

By this point another plane had gone down somewhere in Pennsylvania. We live about 20 miles from the Maryland/PA border. More fear.

Why there? Maybe that plane was heading toward us, and the passengers put up a fight and took it down somewhere that would cause less damage that what the hijackers intended.

Chaos, confusion and fear gripped our nation, and our family was no exception.

As it turned out, thankfully no one close our family was lost in the attacks. Of course, there were people we had met on occasion but didn’t know well as well as friends of friends, friends of co-workers and friends of extended family members whose lives were tragically lost.

And there were some close calls that hit close to home.

My uncle had worked in the Pentagon for many years and retired not long before the attacks, and a co-worker’s girlfriend was supposed to be on the flight that ended up being steered into that same building. Given the nature of my uncle’s responsibilities when he did work there, it seems highly likely that his life would have been lost that day if he hadn’t retired.

When I heard the news about the attack on the Pentagon, I better understood why my uncle had moved to the middle of nowhere in West Virginia.

What I didn’t realize as I watched flight 175 crash into the South Tower was that there was someone on that plane who had a profound impact on my life and helped me fall in love with the sport of hockey and my favorite team, the Washington Capitals. Based on my memories of him and my interactions with him – as well as the many articles I have read about him since his passing – I’m sure that he had the same impact on hundreds, if not thousands, of people my age and older.

I don’t remember exactly when I heard that Ace Bailey was on United Flight 175, but I do remember being overwhelmed by emotion. I also remember being surprised at how the news of someone I had only met a handful of times had such a profound effect on me. Born in Saskatchewan, he was one of 24 Canadians who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. 

To that point, everything that had happened seemed surreal, almost like a movie. Hearing a name that I recognized and immediately visualizing his face and smile – hearing his voice in my head transporting me to innocent and happier times – caused what had been bubbling inside me to finally boil over. When I first heard the news, I was stunned, but within a few minutes I was overcome with grief.

I only knew Garnet Bailey by one name. It was the name he signed for me when I got my first in-person autograph from a professional athlete. It was the name he would sign for me on individual and team photos and anything else I had shoved in front of him the numerous times I had the chance to meet the Washington Capitals winger.

To me, and everyone other hockey fan on the planet, he was just “Ace.” 

Ace Bailey.

And that’s how he always signed his name, with a big, loopy cursive “A” that he filled with a hand-drawn smiley face. I don’t know if he did that just for me and other kids or if that’s how he always signed his name but seeing him sign something for me – and he signed a lot of items for me – with his signature autograph always made me happy.  

Since then, during my childhood and throughout my nearly 30 years working in the sports industry, I have met hundreds of professional athletes, I can honestly say that a more friendly, caring human has never walked the planet.

The first time I met Ace Bailey I was probably 7 years old, so for him to make that kind of long-lasting impression on me speaks volumes. I remember his booming voice and welcoming smile. If he was in a bad mood or not feeling well or just didn’t want to be out signing autographs for people who mostly didn’t even know that D.C. had a professional hockey team, it never showed. He always engaged the crowd and kept the other players who were there with him – and probably didn’t want to be there – laughing with his jokes and banter.

Ace had time for everyone. He welcomed questions and conversation – not that I had much to say at that age – and he always asked how my team was doing and how many goals I had scored. It just so happened that I played on a youth team with several of his teammates’ sons, so that usually gave us something to talk about for the 12 seconds I was brave enough to interact with him.

The Washington Capitals entered the National Hockey League for the 1974-75 season, and boy were they terrible. The team set the standard for futility for teams that played at least 70 games in a season, posting a record of 8-67-5, good for 21 points and a dismal .131 winning percentage. The Kanas City Scouts, who would go on to become the Colorado Rockies and ultimately the New Jersey Devils, doubled the Caps’ point output that season. Washington’s pro hockey team was historically bad.

But they were our team, a lovable group of misfits and castoffs who took turns hoisting a trash can and carrying it around the locker room after recording their first (and only) road win against the California Golden Seals 76 games into that inaugural campaign.

The Capitals played in a state-of-the-art new arena with a huge four-sided video screen hanging from the rafters and luxury boxes for rich people who wanted to watch live sporting events as if they were home in their living rooms. That arena happened to be in a suburb located about 15 minutes from where I grew up in Bowie, Md. The games were easy to get to, and once you were there, you could sit anywhere for less than $5 since the arena basically was empty.

Times were different then.

Today, if you pay $100 to sit at the top of an arena and try to sneak into the expensive seats you are treated like a full-blown criminal. In 1974, ushers at Caps games were friendly and welcoming and encouraged fans who had paid for the nosebleed seats to move down closer to the glass. The team was struggling to find its place in an NFL-obsessed market, so the organization did anything it could to encourage fans to attend games.

Tickets were cheap, often discounted and very easy to come by, and the team did an amazing job sending players out into the community to mingle with fans, sign autographs and promote a sport that not many folks knew anything about. Since Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL, the Washington, D.C. area has become one of the fastest-growing regions for youth hockey in the United States. Back then, those of us who played the game were oddballs.

There weren’t many of us, but for some reason we still had to get out of bed at all kinds of crazy early-morning hours on weekends to practice. At my home rink the figure skaters got the prime-time ice, but none of that mattered to kids who had fallen in love with the sport that nobody knew. We just wanted to skate and play.

I often get asked how I got involved with hockey while growing up south of the Mason-Dixon Line in an area where the sport was virtually unknown. The answer is that I’m not exactly sure.

My dad never played the sport, but he enjoyed watching it and introduced it to me at a very young age. During the early 1970s, when we had no professional team in our area, there was a Sunday Game of the Week on NBC. One game per week. Imagine that world, kids.

We got to watch the Bruins, Flyers and Rangers a lot, and I remember my dad being very fond of Bobby Orr, a teammate of Ace Bailey's in Boston. I’m getting old and this is a vague memory, but I’m pretty sure my first hockey jersey was a Bobby Orr replica.

My initial memories of the sport are watching the Peter Puck cartoons that explained the game to kids between periods of the televised games, the highlights of the great goals and big hits that were set to music during the intermissions, the youth hockey-school segments that often ran during the TV games and how cool the goalies looked in their gear. We played ball hockey on the street in front of my house, and I even got a pair or roller skates and started skating and playing in my driveway, which was a much smoother surface than the street.

My dad took a beating in goal as I fired shots off his shins, and as I grew older the shingles on the front of our house took an even worse beating. Clearly, I was intrigued by the sport before the Capitals ever came to town, but the arrival of a pro team turned that intrigue into a love of the game, and Ace Bailey played a large part in that transformation.

He was one of the best players – a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Bruins who would go on to earn five more Stanley Cup rings as a scout for the Edmonton Oilers – on an awful team. Luckily for him, he only played 22 games with the team that first year, recording a more-than-respectable four goals and 13 assists in those contests to go along with a staggering minus-29 rating. Don’t worry, that wasn’t even close to the worst mark on a team that had players post numbers as high as minus-82.

Ace would go on to play parts of four seasons in D.C., turning in his best offensive year while with a single team by recording 19 goals and 27 assists in 78 games in 1976-77. The year he was acquired by Washington, during the team’s initial season in the league, he came over from the St. Louis Blues and put up a combined 19 goals and 36 assists playing for the two teams.

Known as a hard-nosed, hard-working and honest player who regularly posted more penalty minutes than points, Ace played parts of 10 seasons in the NHL with the Bruins, Red Wings, Blues and Caps, appearing in 568 games while notching 107 goals and 171 assists. But it was the impact he made on and off the ice – during and after his NHL playing days – that will live forever in the hearts and minds of those he touched.

Until doing some research for this article, I had no idea that the Capitals game I attended on April 9, 1978 – my mom’s birthday – would be the last of Ace Bailey’s last NHL career.

It was the final game of another forgettable Caps’ season and was Fan Appreciation Night, so we would get to go on the ice and meet the players after the game. I was excited to get to see my old pal Ace and to meet many other players for the first time. To top it all off, a friend of our family who we played ball hockey with won an opportunity to get one of the players’ sticks after the game as part of a local radio promotion, and he gave the prize to me.

It was an exciting game, with the Caps riding the hot goaltending of an unknown rookie named Jim Bedard, who stopped 32 of 34 shots to earn the 4-2 victory and first-star honors. Bedard would go on to serve as the longtime goalie coach for the Detroit Red Wings. It was Washington’s third straight victory, a rare occurrence, and Ace Bailey would earn the final two points of his NHL career that evening.

I wish I had known.

I would love to be able to give the stick he used that night to his family, but I didn’t choose his stick. Instead, being the naïve young hockey player that I was, of course I picked the stick used by the game’s No. 1 star. I still have it to this day. Bedard signed the stick and personalized it for me, but after more than 40 years the autograph has nearly faded away.

Ironically, the two goals that Ace assisted on during that game were scored by another of the team’s better players, Gerry Meehan. I played on the same team with Gerry’s son Danny. We often drove Danny to games and practices when his dad was out of town with the Caps, and Gerry frequently gave us tickets to games in the Caps’ family section.

Small world, hockey is.

So that’s pretty much what did it for me. That’s what got me hooked on hockey and the Washington Capitals. It was guys like Ace Bailey taking the time to make me feel special and Gerry Meehan giving me the opportunity to see the world’s best spectator sport in person.

For years, Washington was maligned for not being a hockey town, but that has changed thanks to international superstar players like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and elite coaches such as Bruce Boudreau and Barry Trotz. Tickets have become very hard to come by during the Ovechkin era, and the team finally won the Stanley Cup many of us thought never would come to D.C. in 2018 after many years of being considered postseason underachievers.

That year the hockey world got to see just how far the sport has come here as thousands of fans flooded the streets surrounding the Caps’ Verizon Center home during the team’s run to the Cup and when hundreds of thousands turned out for the victory parade days after the deciding victory in Las Vegas.

The team’s success has spawned new generations of diehard fans, and the players have done as great a job being accessible in the community as they have on the ice to solidify that fan base. But it all started more than 40 years ago with players like Ace Bailey who came to a city that was in love with its football team, had lost its baseball team more than once and really had no idea what hockey was.

Ace is a big reason that I fell in love with this sport and that team, and even if there are only hundreds of Caps fans like me who feel the same way about him, those hundreds by now have spawned thousands of others comprising a large core of the fans who fill Verizon Center regularly. It’s unfortunate, but Ace – and his teammates, who fought and battled every single night during a different era when hockey was a different game – probably had no idea the impact they had on the sport in this area.

I wish I could tell them. Hopefully some of them can see this article and better understand all the good that they did here under difficult circumstances.

Oh, and getting back to the hockey-being-a-small-world theme, Bruce Boudreau was the coach who turned the Capitals’ fortunes around nearly 14 years ago and set them on the path that ultimately would lead to a championship. A hockey lifer and extremely successful AHL coach, Boudreau was brought in at Thanksgiving that year, Ovechkin’s third in the league, and turned a last-place team into a Southeast Division winner and perennial Stanley Cup contender. He received the Jack Adams Trophy, presented to the NHL’s Coach of the Year, for his efforts that season.

Boudreau and Ace Bailey became close friends when Boudreau was coaching the Manchester Monarchs, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings in New Hampshire. After leaving Washington, Ace played a year in Edmonton in the old World Hockey Association before the Oilers joined the NHL.

He played there alongside an up-and-coming teenager named Wayne Gretzky and became a friend and mentor to the kid who would become the game’s all-time greatest player. Apparently, Ace made quite an impact on young hockey players wherever he played.

“He was like my best friend. Like a brother,” Gretzky told The Athletic in a recent article. “My second dad.”

Anyway, following the season playing in Edmonton and a couple abbreviated years competing at the minor-league level, Ace tried his hand at coaching and ultimately ended up becoming a scout for the Oilers. During his time scouting for Edmonton the team would win five Stanley Cups before Ace followed Gretzky to Los Angeles.

He had been director of pro scouting for the Kings in 2001 when he drove from his home in Lynnfield, Mass., to visit his buddy Boudreau and check on things with the Kings’ AHL affiliate. The two of them attended the wedding of a friend together the weekend before the 9/11 attacks.

Boudreau was supposed to be on the flight to Los Angeles with Ace but was asked by the Kings to come out a day early and attend a dinner with the other coaches in the organization. He begged Ace to go with him, but he was set to fly out the following day with Mark Bavis, an East Coast scout for the Kings, and decided to stay back.

The morning after arriving in Los Angeles, just before 6 a.m. local time, Boudreau was awakened by an anxious phone call from back East. Like most of the rest of us he watched the events of that day unfold on TV in shock and horror. No one knew for hours which flights had been hijacked and used in the attacks, but later that day Boudreau got the news he feared. He has lost his close friend Ace Bailey in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“It was that close for me,” Boudreau has told many reporters over the years.

Those who knew Ace are convinced that he didn’t let the plane go down without a fight.

“He wouldn’t sit down. He was going to stand up and fight,” Boudreau told The Athletic. “He would have sacrificed himself for the rest of the flight.”

Ace’s wife Kathy, who drove him to the airport as she had hundreds of times previously, echoed those sentiments.

“We don’t have any information on what happened on that plane,” she told the Los Angeles Daily News in a 2007 story. “But if Ace had sensed something was wrong, he would have tried to do something about it. He was a person who protected his turf. There’s just no way he would just sit there and do nothing.”

As for his marriage to Kathy, whose sister would become executive director of the foundation established in Ace’s memory after his death, the story becomes even more surreal. They met in 1970. He was playing for the Bruins. She, believe it or not, was a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines. They were married in 1972, not long after the Bruins and Ace had won their second Stanley Cup.

Following Ace’s death, his family established the Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation, which has continued his longstanding commitment to making the lives of sick kids just a little bit better. In addition to his numerous public appearances in the community, Ace was known to make frequent visits to Boston-area hospitals to spend time with sick children.

Since Ace’s passing the foundation has constructed Ace’s Place, a play area in a Boston-area children’s hospital where sick kids can get away from the medical staff, hang out and just be kids for a little while. The foundation also funded the refurbishing of the hospital’s neonatal pediatric intensive care unit and a smaller version of Ace’s Place near the hospital’s pediatric emergency unit.

There still is one missing piece to this puzzle: Mark Bavis, the Kings’ scout who ended up on the flight with Ace. Mark and his twin brother Mike, who only could be told apart by their different playing styles on the ice and slightly different career paths, were standout players for legendary coach Jack Parker at Boston University. After college Mark would try his hand at coaching before getting into scouting, while Mike would become Parker’s longtime assistant at his alma mater.

My first job out of college was a full-time internship working in the sports information office at Princeton University. My primary responsibility was to handle media relations and communications for the men’s ice hockey team.

Another longtime B.U. assistant, Don “Toot” Cahoon, was the newly appointed head coach at Princeton. He would become a friend and mentor as I got to live my unfulfilled college hockey dreams traveling with – and occasionally skating with – Toot’s Tigers.

During my second year at Princeton we hosted Boston U. for a non-conference game. Toot was in the process of rebuilding a program that hadn’t enjoyed much success during the previous 25 years. Parker had been coaching the Terriers for nearly 20 years and built that program into a perennial national championship contender. Toot went out of his way to introduce me to his former boss when B.U. came to down.

Somehow a Princeton team that would win just nine games that year knocked off the Terriers when they met, 3-2. Looking back on that game I discovered that there was a set of twins named Bavis on that Boston University team who would combine for 47 points that season.

Also on the roster was a talented forward named Doug Friedman who would go on to become a junior coach for the Tier 2 Twin City Thunder in the National Collegiate Development Conference, a league my son would play in for two seasons. A few years ago I sent a random email to Doug, who I never had met but apparently had watched play, about a player who skated with my son as part of a training group for young players in our area that I had formed. These were all kids who hoped to someday play NCAA hockey and would have to pay their dues at the junior level first.

Doug came out to watch the kid I had recommended play for one of my teams in a Boston-area summer showcase. He drafted the player, who would go on to be one of Twin Cities’ scoring leaders and captains. The small world gets smaller.

Mark Bavis flew standby on Sept. 11 and managed to get a seat with his good buddy Ace on Flight 175. Similar to Ace’s family, Mark’s loved ones started a foundation in his honor that has provided college scholarship opportunities for more than 100 young people who otherwise may not have been able to afford to attend college and pursue their dreams.

So, what if Bruce Boudreau hadn’t flown out to Los Angeles a day early? Mark Bavis may not have even gotten a seat on Flight 175, and Boudreau never would have achieved his dream of becoming an NHL head coach.

What might have become of the Washington Capitals and how might have Alex Ovechkin’s career been impacted if Boudreau never lived to coach that team?

And what if Ace had flown with Boudreau? Would Mark have tagged along that day and would all three of them still be alive?

The “what ifs” literally never end when it comes to tragedies such as 9/11, but remember, with each passing year as we move farther away from that unforgettable day, we would be doing a disservice to the lives that were lost if we were to look back in sadness or in anger. We owe it to them to find the positive impact the loss of those lives has had on the next generations and will have on the generations that follow.

The legacies of Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis live on daily through all the kids their foundations have impacted. The impact they made on others during their lives inspired their friends and families to ensure that they did not lose their lives in vain. Their families have turned the most terrible and unfathomable of situations into a positive for so many others.

Maybe being allowed to play in Ace’s Place gave some sick children something to look forward to every day and either made the remaining days of their lives better or provided them with the inspiration to fight and overcome a serious illness. There may be kids who literally owe their lives to Ace and his family.

And what might have become of the kids that Mark’s foundation has put through college if they never had the opportunity to pursue their dreams? Now their successes can be passed down along with even greater opportunities to the generations that will follow them.

Ace and Mark were so beloved by the Kings’ organization that the team took the Stanley Cup to the 9/11 Memorial in New York after they won the championship in 2002. They invited both families to Ground Zero to have their “day with the Cup.” The Kings also named their mascot “Bailey” in honor of Ace.

If Ace Bailey had not been lost on this day 20 years ago, I may never have appreciated the positive impact he has had on my life – and ultimately the lives of my children. Nor would I have taken the time to learn about the similar impact he has had on thousands of others like me – including the greatest player of all time – and all the good things the loss of his life has provided for sick children and their families.

He was a big reason I fell in love with hockey, and hockey has provided so many wonderful memories for our family. My son continues to pursue his hockey dreams while playing at the NCAA Division III level, and my daughter grew up to be a big hockey fan who also plays lacrosse at the collegiate level. Together we have shared many highs and lows riding that red, white and blue Washington Capitals roller coaster. For better or worse, they are my family’s team and that will never change. It’s a bond that cannot be broken.

Those Caps teams of the mid-70s are the butt of many jokes and don’t get much respect, but the Capitals’ organization and fans of the team owe Ace Bailey and those players who spent so much time building goodwill in the community a huge debt of gratitude for helping build the core of a fanbase that ultimately allowed D.C. to become a legitimate hockey town.

The kids of the kids of the kids of the kids of the kids of the kids those guys impacted will grow up being hockey fans, more specifically Caps fans. It’s a cycle that will never end.

A few years after Ace left town, the future of the franchise was in jeopardy. A “Save the Caps” telethon was held in hopes of selling enough tickets to persuade then-owner Abe Pollin to keep the team in D.C.

I attended that telethon in person, but as a kid I didn’t have the money to make a difference. Somehow the goal was reached, the team was saved, a new general manager named David Poile was brought in, a huge trade for Rod Langway was orchestrated and the rest is history.

The Caps have pretty much been a playoff contender every year since, and those of us who fell in love with the sport because of the efforts of players like Ace Bailey realized what we nearly lost and vowed to make sure that would never happen again once we grew up and had the means to provide our financial support to the sport and the organization.

This is just one story of many that can be told on this 20th anniversary of 9/11. So many innocent lives were lost that day, but none of them was lost in vain. This can be a difficult day – a day of mourning – for so many who lost friends or loved ones as a result of the unthinkable attacks on our nation.

But never forget that they were friends and loved ones for a reason. As you mourn, take some time to reflect on why you cared about them so much, the positive impact they had on you and others during their lifetimes, the times they made you happy and how they made you laugh or smile.

They can’t be replaced, but the sacrifice they made can continue to unite us at a time when we sure could use a little more unity.

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