On the 12th of December, 1933, at Boston Gardens in Massachusetts, the Bruins battled the Toronto Maple Leafs in what would turn out to be one of the NHL’s most shameful moments.
Defender for the Bruins, Eddie Shore, attacked Ace Bailey of the Maple Leafs from behind. The blow to Bailey’s head almost killed him, but certainly ended his career.
As it has always been, violence and hockey go together like jam and toast. Over the years, the terms of that violence have changed, but players have always known hockey is not a sport for sissies. It was all anyone could do to put helmets on the players at one time.
This knowledge of the danger is likely why Bailey eventually forgave Eddie Shore, but officials and fans had to look deep into their hearts to decide what was acceptable violence after this incident.
Eddie Shore’s reputation as a defenseman is legendary, even before this incident. In his day he was one of if not the best defensive players.
The NHL awarded him the MVP four times during his career. He also had another reputation, though. Shore was so violent, he once set another NHL record: 165 penalty minutes in his second season.
Bailey was a good player, who only played professionally for eight seasons, all for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the 1928-29 season, he led the Leafs in scoring, with 22 goals and 32 points.
He was on the Toronto team when they won the Stanley Cup in 1932.
At the Boston Gardens Arena that December day, fans expected the hometown Bruins to trounce the Maple Leafs.
During the game, as Shore rushed the puck down the ice, a player from the Leafs, King Clancy, tripped him. The refs called no penalty so Shore took it upon himself to exact a proper sentence for his opponents.
From behind he plowed into Bailey, sending the Bruin tumbling forward in a full somersault, landing on his head. Witnesses at the time said the resulting crack of his skull sounded like a watermelon hitting the ice.
Another Bruin clocked Shore in the jaw, putting him on the ice too. He was barely scratched compared to Bailey, though.
After Bailey’s skull bounced off the ice, he lay there out cold with his legs twitching uncontrollably.
One Boston paper stated incorrectly that Bailey had died. He didn’t, but for days the player did not wake up. Both of his temples had fractured from the impact.
For two weeks it seemed he would not survive, pinned to the hospital bed in a coma. Doctors performed two brain surgeries to save him.
Bailey’s father even threatened to kill Shore, which was not an idle threat. He actually loaded a gun and left the house. Police caught up with Bailey’s father and disarmed him.
Ace Bailey eventually woke from his coma. He survived, well enough to suffer under the weight of medical bills, but not well enough to earn a paycheck from Hockey to pay those bills.
What came of the incident gave birth to the first NHL All-Star Game, which took place to raise funds for Bailey. It was a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark event, but the event could not return Bailey’s career.
Ace Bailey met Eddie Shore on the ice before the All-Star game to shake hands, but only one of the two would ever play again.