After establishing himself within the NHL as one of the league's leading scorers, Ace Bailey's role with the Toronto Maple Leafs evolved radically in 1931-32. Following three consecutive seasons scoring 20 or more goals, in addition to leading the NHL in scoring with 32 points in 1928-29, followed by successive seasons collecting more than 40 points for the Leafs, Ace was thrust into a role as a defensive forward. The Kid Line of Joe Primeau, Charlie Conacher and Harvey 'Busher' Jackson had usurped Bailey in the goal-scoring department. Utilizing Ace's superior skating and stickhandling prowess, Maple Leafs coach Dick Irvin, newly arrived from the Chicago Black Hawks, placed Bailey in the role of shutting down the snipers on the other eight NHL teams.
Whether Bailey took his new role readily has been lost to time, but while Jackson Primeau and Conacher finished first, second and fourth in NHL scoring during the 1931-32 season, Ace Bailey finished the season with just 8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points. Yet, in his sixth campaign with the Maple Leafs, Ace was every bit as important to the franchise as he had been as the team's leading scorer.
Toronto, playing out of their new Maple Leaf Gardens, finished second in the Canadian Division of the NHL in 1931-32. In the Stanley Cup final, they faced the blue, white and red hot New York Rangers, who had finished first in the American Division, although just one point ahead of Toronto's 53 points.
Game 1 of the best-of-five Stanley Cup final was played at New York's Madison Square Garden on April 5, 1932. The Maple Leafs dumped the Rangers 6-4 in the series opener.
Because of a circus being booked into Madison Square Garden that spring, a problem for the hockey club that continued for decades, Game 2 was played on April 7 at a neutral site, in this case, the Boston Garden. Toronto walloped the Rangers 6-2.
Game 3 on April 9 reverted to Toronto's gleaming new Maple Leaf Gardens. Toronto, who already had a stranglehold on the Stanley Cup, asserted themselves and took the third and deciding game 6-4 in front of their faithful fans. Ace Bailey, with his only goal of the series, scored at 15:07 of the third period to record the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
The team gathered around NHL president Frank Calder, who presented the Stanley Cup to team captain Hap Day, one of the few remaining members of the Toronto St. Patrick's club that preceded the Maple Leafs in 1927, and a team that also included Ace Bailey. Day, coach Dick Irvin and team manager and owner Conn Smythe all spoke to the loyal Toronto fans, who had just experienced the first Stanley Cup victory for the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise. Ace Bailey, who had helped build the fledgling franchise to respectability and who played a key role through his transformation from scoring star to defensive expert, ironically was the scoring star in what has been dubbed the 'Tennis Series' (6-4, 6-2 and 6-4).
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and On-Line Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.