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REMEMBERING ACE `HE WAS ONE OF THOSE GUYS YOU JUST LOVED'.

EL SEGUNDO - By Wednesday, the Kings were telling Ace Bailey stories. Just not as well as Bailey would have told them.

Such as the story from the season Bailey was a left wing with the WHA's Edmonton Oilers near the end of his long playing career and roomed with rookie Wayne Gretzky on the road, the veteran showing the kid the ropes.

One afternoon they laid down for naps and didn't wake up until 6 p.m. They'd missed the team bus and faceoff was an hour away.

His heart racing but his priorities straight, Bailey bundled Gretzky into a taxi, then rushed back to the hotel room to pack their suitcases.

By the time Bailey got to the arena, the rest of the Oilers were on the ice, loosening up. Bailey would have to be clever to avoid being nailed for tardiness. So what did he do?

He threw on his hockey gear and jumped in the shower. When his teammates plodded back into the dressing room, they found Ace sitting hunched at his locker, breathing hard and dripping - it seemed to them - sweat.

``Great warmup, Ace,'' a couple of the Oilers said, assuming he'd been out there with them.

Garnet ``Ace'' Bailey was the sort of guy who could pull off a stunt like that and go on to tell the tale for two more decades as a player, coach and scout in the employ of various hockey franchises.

``He was one of those guys you just loved,'' said Daryl Evans, the Kings' radio commentator.

Bailey, 53, the Kings' director of pro scouting, and Mark Bavis, 31, one of the team's amateur scouts, died Tuesday aboard the second of the hijacked airliners that slammed into the World Trade Center. They were flying from Boston, near both men's homes, to Los Angeles for Wednesday's opening of training camp in El Segundo.

Bavis, in his second year with the Kings, was a bright and energetic young man with a big future.

Bailey, in his eighth year in his executive position with the Kings, was a life-of-the-party type who made newcomers like Bavis feel welcome.

``Ace, if you were introduced to him, you knew him,'' Kings assistant coach Ray Bennett said of Bailey, a Lloydminster, Sask., native who lived in Lynnwood, Mass., with his wife Katherine and son Todd. ``He didn't just shake your hand. He grabbed your arm. He slapped you on the back. 'Mr. Bennett, good to see you!' He understood that this game is really about relationships and the people you meet.

``We could be standing here (watching the Kings practice), and everything that would come up, he'd give you a little tug and say, `I remember ....' He had a story for every occasion.''

Bennett blinked back tears as he pictured Bailey and Bavis on that doomed airplane.

``I think of what must have been going through those guys' minds,'' Bennett said. ``Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I have to believe they died before the plane hit that building. Ace was the kind of guy who would have done something. 'What the f--- is going on here?!' ''

Jim Fox, the Kings' television commentator, knew Bailey for 15 years, since the latter was an Edmonton scout, collecting five Stanley Cup rings in the 1980s.

``Every time you saw him, you'd shake his hand and within one second somebody would be laughing,'' Fox said after the Kings' first scrimmage. ``He had a smile all the time - and he transferred that smile to everybody. Every group has that person who sets the tone. With the Kings, that was Ace.''

Bailey was the one who'd push somebody in the swimming pool at the team owner's barbecue for coaches and scouts. Bailey was the center of attention when he joined the team on flights, holding court in the middle of the airplane. Bailey was a hockey lifer who would have loved Tuesday, the day Kings players, coaches and staffers reconvened after a five-month offseason.

Many of those players were his finds, including Glen Murray, a fourth-liner with the Pittsburgh Penguins before Bailey recommended the trade that made Murray a force on the Kings' right wing.

``I picture him coming here and talking to all the guys,'' Murray said. ``He loved to talk to the guys. He loved to play golf every day after practice. He'd come in the next day and tell us how well he played. He was probably lying, just trying to get a laugh.''

The Kings announced Wednesday they've canceled Saturday's exhibition game against the Mighty Ducks. But they went ahead with their first workout leading up to the season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes on Oct. 4. Play was as spirited as ever, although banter was minimal. Players and coaches wore elastic black armbands.

``We're like the rest of America today. We're trying to go on,'' Kings head coach Andy Murray said. ``Ace Bailey, Mark Bavis, they were hockey people, they're professionals. They'd say, 'Get the heck out there (and play).' ''

Murray paused and cracked a tiny smile.

``I'd say, 'Get the heck out there.' Ace would say something else.''

Bruce Boudreau, coach of the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester, N.H., spent last weekend with his old New England friend in Lake Placid, N.Y. Boudreau and Bailey attended the wedding of Kings player-personnel director Bill O'Flaherty's daughter.

``He couldn't wait to get out here,'' Boudreau said.

Kings media relations director Mike Altieri said that after watching the terror unfold on TV early Tuesday morning, he drove to El Segundo thinking, ``I wonder if I'll know anybody on those flights.''

Altieri arrived to find John Wolf, the Kings executive who arranges company travel, trying to account for all of the scouts in transit.

``When he didn't hear from Ace and Mark, he became concerned,'' Altieri said.

By the time the team convened for its pre-training-camp meeting Tuesday evening, the fears had been confirmed.

Murray said that before the death of Bailey and Bavis, he planned to open the meeting by paying tribute to the 17-man scouting staff, citing the scouts' role in assembling what the coach considers the Kings' deepest roster.

Instead, Murray paid tribute to two members of the Kings family who weren't in the room. He described Bailey affectionately as ``the social director of our scouting staff.''

As sad as the reason was, Bailey's Kings friends seemed to enjoy talking about him Wednesday.

``That's how we want to remember him, for the way he lifted your spirits and enjoyed life,'' said Nick Nickson, the Kings' radio play-by-play announcer.

I asked Nickson where he pictured Bailey. In a locker room? In a hotel bar? On the team plane? On Tuesday's plane?

``I picture him here,'' Nickson said. ``He should be here.''

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Kings coach Andy Murray, speaking to the media on Wednesday, and other members of the team have nothing but wonderful memories of Ace Bailey, who died with fellow scout Mark Bavis in the second plane to crash into the World Trade Center.

Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

(2) A photo of Ace Bailey during his playing days seems to capture his fun-loving personality.

Associated Press File Photo
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 13, 2001
Words:1198
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