Irvine "Ace" Bailey was born in Bracebridge, Ontario, but grew up in Toronto, where he played minor hockey in the Toronto hockey association. Although he was a fine player, he had no intention of turning pro, and when he was 18 he enrolled at the University of Toronto. But he also played the 1924-25 and 1925-26 seasons for the Peterborough Seniors and caught the attention of the Toronto St. Pats, who convinced him to try out. He made the team -- as well as an immediate impression -- with both his speed and his shooting ability. During his brief career, he was once the league's leading goal scorer and in 1928-29, he won the scoring title with 22 goals and 10 assists in 44 games.
Bailey was an immensely popular Leaf during his few years in the NHL, but he will forever be linked to one of the worst on-ice accidents in the history of the game. On December 12, 1933, during the second period of a Leafs' visit to Boston Garden, Eddie Shore was checked by Leafs defenceman King Clancy while Shore was carrying the puck into the Leafs' end.
As play moved back into Boston territory, Shore, dazed by the hit and full of vengeance, skated wildly toward Bailey, thinking that he was charging Clancy. Shore used his stick to trip Bailey heavily from behind and Ace fell to the ice with a sickening thud. He lost consciousness and began bleeding from the head. Red Horner skated over to the stricken Bailey and, seeing his teammate seriously injured, asked Shore in no uncertain terms just what he'd been thinking. Shore just smiled, prompting a furious Horner to deck him with one punch, knocking him unconscious to the ice.
As Leafs players gathered around Bailey, Bruin trainers looked after Shore, and both men had to be carried off the ice by worried teammates. Shore suffered a three-inch gash to his head, but Bailey's injury was far more serious. He lay in the Bruins dressing room where Shore, upon regaining consciousness, came over to apologize. "It's all part of the game," Bailey said in forgiveness before convulsing and falling unconscious again.
Bailey was rushed to Audubon Hospital with what seemed to be a fractured skull. But by the following morning, Bailey's condition was grave and the prospect of his death was almost certain. Overnight, he'd suffered cerebral hemorrhaging, and at noon, Dr. Donald Munro, a brain specialist, consulted with Ace's wife Mabel about a very necessary but dangerous operation. At the same time, Boston homicide detectives were interviewing Shore and other players about the incident and it became known that, in the event of Bailey's death, Shore would be charged with manslaughter.
Bailey was transferred to City Hospital where Dr. Munro performed two operations to relieve the pressure on his brain. After the second operation, on December 18, Dr. Munro said simply, "His chances of living are very slim," and a priest was called to read Bailey his last rites. His pulse was 160, his temperature almost 106¼ Fahrenheit, and the doctors were reluctant even to measure his life expectancy in minutes. By the very next morning, however, Bailey had miraculously fought off death, and in the ensuing days, he grew stronger and stronger. By Christmas, his life was no longer hanging in the balance and Ace was on the road to recovery.
Blame and accusations followed the Shore-Bailey incident. League president Frank Calder absolved the two referees -- Odie Cleghorn and Eusebe Daignault -- of any breach of responsibility in their handling of the game. But Red Horner blamed Shore for the attack, while Shore protested that he wasn't aware of what he was doing after being dazed by Clancy's check. Meanwhile, Leafs owner Conn Smythe blamed the Boston writers for generating malicious hype leading up to the game and inciting the Boston players to violence.
Calder suspended Horner until January 1, 1934 and barred Shore indefinitely. Shore wasn't permitted to visit Bailey in the hospital, but when Boston manager Art Ross managed to gain access to his room, Ace again absolved Shore of any willful wrongdoing. Shore, exhausted and near collapse from both his own injury and his worry over Bailey's condition, went to Bermuda for three weeks to convalesce.
Once it was clear that Bailey would live but would never play hockey again, President Calder announced that Shore would be allowed back to the NHL as of January 28 after an absence of 16 games. Shore's presence in the Boston lineup was vital to the franchise's success. When he played, Boston Garden was routinely sold out. During his suspension, attendance had plummeted to about 6,000 per game.
On January 24, 1934, the NHL's board of governors decided that a special benefit game featuring the Leafs against the best of the rest of the league would be staged in Toronto and the proceeds would go to Bailey and his family. The idea had originally been proposed by Walter Gilhooley, sports editor of the Journal in Montreal, in the form of an open letter to the league. The Leafs' opposition, an "All-Star" team, would be selected by a committee consisting of Frank Calder, Frank Patrick and league director Thomas Arnold.
Prior to the game, held on Valentine's Day 1934, the All-Star players skated onto the ice in their regular team sweaters and had their picture taken as a group. They were then presented with their All-Star sweaters by President Calder, Lester Patrick and Leaf club officials, including Ace Bailey himself. The first in line was goalie Charlie Gardiner, who received his number 1 jersey, and he was followed immediately by number 2, Eddie Shore. An apprehensive silence fell over the Gardens as Shore skated to centre ice. But as Bailey extended his hand to Shore, the crowd went wild. Bailey's extraordinary gesture made clear his forgiveness of Shore.
Before the opening faceoff, Ace gave President Calder a special trophy in Bailey's own name. It had been commissioned by the Maple Leafs in the hope that it would be the prize of an annual All-Star Game that would be staged to set up a fund for injured players. The paid attendance at the Gardens that night raised $20,909.40 for Bailey and his family.
Bailey later worked as an off-ice official at Maple Leaf Gardens almost to the day he died, on April 7, 1992. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.