Bruce Boudreau and 9/11

An excerpt from Bruce Boudreau's autobiography, "Gabby - Confessions of a Hockey Lifer"

[Every day this week at Japers' Rink, we'll be sharing a new excerpt from Bruce Boudreau's forthcoming autobiography "Gabby - Confessions of a Hockey Lifer" (co-written by Tim Leone). The book, published by the good folks over at Potomac Books, Inc., hits book store shelves in October, 2009, but you can (and should) pre-order it now via Amazon.com or BN.com.]

Starting an AHL expansion franchise in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 2001–2 was exciting. But that challenge was tempered by a tragic dose of perspective on September 11, 2001.

I was supposed to be on United Airlines flight 175 out of Boston, which flew into the World Trade Center in New York. Los Angeles Kings pro scouting director Ace Bailey and scout Mark Bavis were on the flight and were killed. Ace and I became fast friends when I coached in Lowell. There wasn’t a more lovable guy in the world than Garnet "Ace" Bailey, who was like a big brother to me. Ace, who was Wayne Gretzky’s roommate during the Great One’s first season in Edmonton, possessed a geniality and charisma that made him a beloved figure throughout pro hockey.

The original itinerary called for me to be on the Tuesday flight from Boston to Los Angeles for the start of Kings training camp. But Kings head coach Andy Murray decided he wanted me and Bobby Jay, my Manchester assistant coach, there a day earlier. Thank God Andy’s a stickler for details, and thank God Kings general manager Dave Taylor listened to coaches when they wanted something. The week before, John Wolf, Taylor’s assistant, told me he changed my flight because Murray had scheduled a precamp meeting and dinner with all the coaches in the organization. I would fly to LA on Monday, September 10, instead of Tuesday, September 11. I wasn’t peeved about the switch. I was happy that Andy wanted me there early. I didn’t know he had saved my life.

The weekend before September 11, Kings player personnel director Bill O’Flaherty’s daughter got married in Lake Placid, New York. Ace Bailey picked me up in Manchester, and we drove to Lake Placid. We had to take a car ferry across Lake Champlain from Vermont to New York, and Ace chatted with fellow passengers and offered them beer. Typical, gregarious Ace. He knew everybody in hockey.

We were hungry when we arrived in Lake Placid. The lights were out when we checked into our hotel room, but we started ravenously searching for food before we turned them on. Ace pointed out a big bowl in the shadows and suggested I dig in. I started eating what I thought were peanuts. They tasted stale. Ace tried them (or at least pretended to try them) and agreed they were stale. He encouraged me to keep eating, noting they weren’t half bad given our hunger. When we turned on the lights, I discovered I’d been eating potpourri. Yum-yum. At the wedding reception, Ace made sure to tell everybody that foolish Bruce dined on potpourri, never mentioning that it originally was his idea. I was always Mutt to his Jeff.

We returned home Sunday morning. I suggested to Ace that he get his Tuesday flight changed to Monday and travel to LA with me. Ace checked with John Wolf. A flight change would cost $750. Ace didn’t want to hit the Kings with that expense and opted to stick with the Tuesday flight. He dropped me off and I shook his hand, gave him a man hug, and told him I’d see him Tuesday.

I flew to Los Angeles on Monday with Bobby Jay, and on Tuesday morning, September 11, at around 6:00 a.m. Pacific time, my wife, Crystal, phoned and told me to turn on the TV. I did and saw all the stuff happening with the terrorist attacks. I went to Bobby Jay’s room. He’s from Boston. We went to the rink to continue watching and word started to drift out that one of the planes involved was United flight 175—the flight taken by Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis.

[Tomorrow: Bruce Boudreau, the tactician.]

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