That fateful day, ironically, was also the day I was to begin my career as a hockey journalist. Bruins players were reporting to training camp, and I planned to drive to Wilmington, Mass., and grab some quotes from the players.
After watching the horrible attacks unravel on TV, I headed north to Wilmington. But as I was driving, practice was canceled, and I turned around, more and more in disbelief, wondering if the whole day was actually happening.
When I got back to my house, I saw on the TV that Kings scout and former Bruin Garnet “Ace” Bailey was killed on United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to hit the Twin Towers. I realized then that there was no way the Bruins would’ve been able to do business that day.
Bailey was one of the friendliest guys and best pranksters you’ll ever meet, as I had the pleasure of experiencing as a PR intern for the Islanders. I would greet the press and scouts at Islanders games when they arrived and “Ace” always stopped to chat and never failed to make us laugh. One time, he took the whole crew out to dinner, and we were in tears the entire night.
“Ace brought a smile to everyone, every time he entered the room,” Wayne Gretzky, who roomed with Ace as a rookie with the Oilers, told me a few years back. “Ace was just one of those guys who had the ability to make you smile no matter how you felt. He was a great person, and he is sorely missed.”
Even though that’s all I knew of “Ace,” I broke down in tears the instant I saw his face on the news and learned that he and fellow scout and Boston native Mark Bavis were on that plane. That’s when the magnitude of that day hit me, and if you were from the Northeast, chances were you had some connection to a victim.
While working for the Islanders, I actually lived in Long Beach, N.Y., a town full of NYPD and NYFD members. I remember hearing about the constant funerals that took place there in the following months.
The one good thing I remember in the months that followed was how everyone became so united and how the sports world and fans stood tall. There was the Flyers-Rangers game, where they decided to end the game and broadcast President Bush’s speech. There was the Yankees-Diamondbacks World Series and, of course, the best Super Bowl halftime show ever.
Regardless of your politics, never forget those who lost their lives on that day and the families they left behind. Always be grateful for those that have fought and are fighting for our freedom. May they reach a point where the fighting is not needed, and there's peace on earth.
Saturday also is a solemn day for me. As I stated above, my first day on the Bruins beat for the Boston Metro was delayed a day because of the attacks on 9/11. When I finally got to the rink the next day, it was a somber atmosphere, with many in attendance shocked at the news about Bavis and Bailey. I met Wayne Cashman, who was and would be a Bruins assistant coach for the next five years. Cashman always had a good story to tell, and that day, he had plenty of “Ace” stories and helped turn tears into laughs.
Fast-forward to Sept. 12, 2003, when the world lost one of its greatest musicians, Johnny Cash, “The Man in Black.” I am a huge Cash fan, and upon seeing the Bruins’ “Cash,” after The Man in Black had passed, I had the pleasure of hearing a great story about the music legend.
It turns out Cashman was a huge Johnny Cash fan as well, and during his playing career, he had a chance encounter with the singer. As Cashman was walking down the hallway after a practice at the old Boston Garden, he looked up and saw Cash standing outside his dressing room preparing for a show that night. He looked around and had nothing to sign until he saw Bobby Orr’s stick sitting there beside him. Cashman quickly realized that this could be a rather unique souvenir. So he borrowed a pen form the trainer and got Cash to sign Orr’s stick. The stick still hangs on his basement wall.
Rest in peace, Johnny Cash, Garnett “Ace” Bailey, Mark Bavis and all those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.