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On This Date in Sports December 12, 1933: The Ace Bailey Incident

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

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The career of Toronto Maple Leafs star Ace Bailey comes to a sudden end when his head hits the ice after receiving a check from Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins. Bailey would go into convulsions on the ice at Boston Garden as most thought he would not survive. Despite spending ten days in a coma, Ace Bailey recovered but never played again as his #6 was the first number ever retired.

Irvine “Ace” Bailey was born on July 3, 1903, in Bracebridge, Ontario. A star at Peterborough in the Ontario Hockey League, Ace Bailey, was signed by Toronto in 1926. He quickly became one of the top stars in the NHL’s early days, leading the league with 22 goals in 1929. In an era in which scoring was down, Bailey had three consecutive 20-goal seasons with the Tonto Maple Leafs. In 1932, Ace Bailey scored what would prove to be the Stanley Cup-clinching goal as the Maple Leafs had a three-game sweep over the New York Rangers.

Eddie Shore was the quintessential bruising defenseman of the era. Born in Saskatchewan on November 25, 1902, Shore gave an intimidating presence on the ice as he often went out of his way to knock opposing players down. He often led the league in penalties minutes, as he ended up in the NHL with the Boston Bruins after the Edmonton Eskimos in the WHL folded in 1926. Shore led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 1929 and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP for the first time in 1933.

The Bruins got off to a slow start in the 1933/34 season, with the Maple Leafs won 10 of their first 12 games for coach Dick Irvin, the Bruins were at 6-7 under the leadership of Art Ross. The teams met for the first time since opening night on a Tuesday Night in Boston. King Clancy upended Eddie Shore, who got up angry, looking for revenge. Shore dazed checked Ace Bailey from behind, sending the Leafs down to the ice, with the back of his head striking the ice.

In anger, Red Horner took after Eddie Shore and landed a knockout punch that also injured the Bruins bruising defenseman. Shore was fine, but Ace Bailey was clearly in distress as he was convulsing on the Boston Garden ice. Bailey was rushed to the hospital, where it was not expected he would survive. Over the next ten days, Ace Bailey drifted in and out of a coma with a fractured skull as the league considered what punishment to hand out to Eddie Shore. Eventually, Ace Bailey recovered as NHL President Frank Calder suspended Shore for 16 games.

Even though he survived that dirty hit by Eddie Shore, Ace Bailey’s career was over. On February 14, 1934, at Maple Leafs Gardens, a charity game was played to raise money for his medical bills and to assist his family. The Ace Bailey charity game was the NHL first attempt at an All-Star Game as stars from the league faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. A highlight of the night saw Shore and Bailey embrace before the game won by the Leafs 7-3. In dedication to Ace Bailey, Maple Leafs President Conn Smythe had Bailey’s #6 retired. It was the first number retired in a major professional league.