Ace Bailey

The NHL lost one of the greats of the game on December 12, 1933. That was the night that Ace Bailey's brilliant yet brief career as a hockey player came to an end.

A disastrous collision with Bruins legend Eddie Shore resulted in Bailey fracturing his skull. At the Boston Garden, the Bruins hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs. Shore was unceremoniously dumped by Red Horner in the Toronto zone. As he was skating back, he mistakenly checked Toronto's Irvine "Ace" Bailey instead of Horner from behind. It was a basic slew-foot - as simple as it was unsportsmanlike. But as Bailey fell he hit his head on the ice and fractured his skull. He lay twisted and twitching in a seizure-like state. Bailey had two brain operations and hovered between life and death for 10 days. Bailey eventually recovered to live a normal life but his hockey career was finished.

Yet in his short 7 seasons in the NHL, Bailey established himself as a premier scoring threat and excellent defensive forward.

Irvine Bailey was born on July 3, 1903 in Bracebridge, Ontario, although he spent most of his childhood in Toronto. By 1922 Bailey had established himself as a junior hockey star. But Bailey never planned on making a career out of hockey. Though professional hockey existed for approximately 20 years by that point, the NHL was still in its infancy. He enrolled in university classes while continuing to play junior hockey.

But Bailey was too good of a hockey player not to advance. Senior hockey organizers in Peterborough, Ontario, convinced him to play in that city from 1924 through 1926, and then he turned professional by signing with Toronto's NHL entry - then still known as the Toronto St. Pats. By the time new owner Conn Smythe had changed the name to Leafs part way through the 1926-27 season, Bailey had already established himself as a fan favorite. With his electrifying speed and heavy shot, he had star written all over him.

Bailey would live up to that potential. In his very first season he scored 15 goals and 28 points in 42 games. That doesn't sound significant by today's standards but that was very impressive back in 1926-27. Those totals led the Leafs, and placed him 6th overall in league scoring. By 1928-29 Bailey became the NHL scoring champion. His 22 goals and 31 points were only challenged by the great Nels Stewart of the Montreal Maroons (21 goals and 29 points). Ace would improve upon his scoring totals in each of the next two years as the NHL lightened up rules to allow for a more entertaining offensive game.

By 1931-32 the famed Toronto Kid Line of Busher Jackson, Joe Primeau and Charlie Conacher had taken over as the offensive leaders of the club. The three would finish in the top 4 in league scoring that season, and would become one of the greatest lines in hockey history. Bailey took the transition in great stride. He allowed these sensation kids to score the goals while he became one of the game's fiercest defensive players. He was a penalty-killer extraordinaire and a great shadow.

Though his scoring totals were down, in no way was Bailey any less an important member of the Leafs than when he was their scoring hero. In fact his selfless defensive sacrifice and gritty play and leadership made him more valuable than ever, and it showed in the team's success. In 1932 he spirited a great playoff run which was capped off with the Stanley Cup championship - the first and only of Bailey's career and the first for the city of Toronto in over a decade.

Unfortunately Bailey will always be known for the incident with Shore more than as a great hockey player that he was. He scored a very impressive 111 goals and 193 points in 313 games in an era where offense was at a premium. And he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.

The story of the Bailey-Shore incident is brought up on an annual basis. One of hockey's greatest traditions was born out of horrific accident. On February 14, 1934 the NHL held a benefit game for Bailey and his family by creating an all star squad to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game would become the predecessor to the annual mid-season All Star Game.

Ace was present at that first All Star game. As each player was introduced, they skated to center ice and Ace would hand them their jersey for the game. When it was time for Eddie Shore, one of the all time greats even if he was also scarily vicious, to receive his jersey, the two men shook hands and the building rocked in applause.

Following Bailey's injury, he would become active with the Maple Leaf Gardens for decades later, almost until his death in 1992. One could say Maple Leaf Gardens was his as much his as anybody's. He deserved it.


emptynetter 8:04 PM  

"At the Boston Garden, the Bruins hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs. King Clancy was unceremoniously dumped by Red Horner in the Toronto zone. As he was skating back, he mistakenly checked Toronto's Irvine "Ace" Bailey instead of Horner from behind."

I think you meant to say, "Eddie Shore was unceremoniously dumped". King Clancy hit Shore in retaliation of Shore's check to Ace Bailey. Clancy and Bailey were team mates for the Maple Leafs.

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