The National Hockey League was not immune to the tragic events of 9/11 and Wayne Gretzky feels that pain every time the date rolls around.
The second hijacked plane that slammed into the World Trade Center carried his former teammate Garnet (Ace) Bailey and Mark Bavis, both members of the Los Angeles Kings scouting department.
"Yes, I think about Ace all the time," Gretzky said yesterday from Phoenix. "Sometimes we get a bit carried away when we talk about someone that's passed away, talking about how they were loved by everyone. But in this case, there's no question.
"He was a great hockey man. In Edmonton, he was a huge part of those championship runs. He was a winner."
Those who also knew Bailey, who was Gretzky's bodyguard in Edmonton before Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley were deputized, are certain he did meet his end that morning without fighting the hijackers to his last breath.
"As Wayne often says, if Ace knew what was going on with that plane he'd have been dead before it hit the ground," former Kings general manager Dave Taylor said yesterday.
Bailey and Bavis were headed from their Boston-area homes to the Kings' training camp that sunny Tuesday.
"It was a tragedy for everyone in the world, but one that certainly hit home with us," said Taylor, now in charge of the Kings' amateur development. "I got a call about 7 a.m. in L.A. from our Ontario scout who was stuck on the tarmac in Toronto. I turned on the TV and there was so much confusion. Then I heard that United Flight 175, Ace's plane, was missing."
Flight 175 hit the WTC South Tower at 9:03 a.m. There were 56 passengers, including five terrorists, and nine crew, all killed instantly along countless office workers.
The Kings have created a team leadership award in Bailey's name and a trophy for best newcomer in honour of Bavis, who had only been with club a brief time. Bailey also has an NHL Alumni award in his name and both have had foundations created to help young people in Massachusetts.
"Their families have turned something terrible into a labour of love," Taylor said.
"Ace was a wonderful guy to have on your team and he was the same at the management level, always a smile on his face."
Ace's son Todd was hired by the Kings as a scout, but became a success in home remodeling, starting his business by working on his mother's house. The unmarried Bavis' twin brother Mike is a university hockey coach.