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How a flight change on 9/11 saved the life of Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau

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How a last-minute flight change on September 11, 2001, saved the life of 16-year NHL coach Bruce Boudreau.

Boudreau, head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, nearly perished on the doomed United Airlines Flight 175, which was hijacked by Al-Qaida terrorists and flown into the south tower of New York City's World Trade Centre.

Aboard that flight was Boudreau’s friend and co-worker, Garnet “Ace” Bailey.

Bailey was a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and Boudreau was the coach of their top minor-league affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The weekend before, Boudreau and Bailey, along with other Kings co-workers, had been in Lake Placid, N.Y., for the wedding of the team’s director of personnel, Bill Flaherty.

Kings training camp was set to open the following weekend and head coach Andy Murray decided he wanted to have a coaches’ dinner back in L.A. on Monday evening. Monday was Sept. 10.

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Boudreau had originally been scheduled to fly first thing on Tuesday, Sept. 11, so his flight was rebooked to accommodate the meeting. Bailey wasn’t needed at the meeting, so his flight wasn’t changed.

“Andy Murray, well … he did, he saved my life,” Boudreau told Postmedia this week.

“I can tell you minute by minute, from six o’clock L.A. time that morning on the 11th to the end of the day, how it went. It was a crazy day.”

His wife and kids were still living in St. Catharines, Ont., in those days.

When news broke that an airliner had crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower, Boudreau’s wife Crystal called him at his Los Angeles hotel to tell him a tragedy was unfolding.

Boudreau woke his assistant coach, who was staying down the hall, and the two watched a second plane crash into the south tower. They would come to learn that plane was the flight they’d originally been booked on. He went numb, thinking about his friend “Ace” and their other colleague, Kings scout Mark Bavis, who was also on the flight.

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And then news came that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon while a fourth — United flight 93 — had crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Even though they knew their dad had changed flights, Boudreau’s kids still broke into a panic.

“They were all in school when they heard the news. And they ran home. It was pretty crazy,” Boudreau said, his voice wavering for a moment. “I still get all choked up when I even talk about it now, because I can picture the fear in their eyes and in their voices.”

Others didn’t know Boudreau had changed flights and calls poured into the house, asking Crystal if her husband was on the flight.

“Every year it comes around, I think about it. The Flight 93 movie’s going to be on, I’ll watch it again and again. And you just keep thinking of the thoughts that went through your head at that time. And it was a crazy, crazy time and I’m one lucky guy.”

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“I think about Ace all the time. We were tight as thieves. He lived in Boston, he was coming up and watching our games all the time. Just like when he was as a player, he was the big protector of me. If somebody said something bad he’d go right after them and he protected me within the organization if somebody was saying we’re not doing things right, he would jump to my help. And so I mean, it was a big loss for friendship. You ask anybody, he was loved by everybody,” Boudreau said.

Garnet "Ace" Bailey, who perished when flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Centre on Sept 11. 2001.

And every year, Boudreau gets back to doing what he does best, carrying Bailey’s memory with him. This year, that means being in Vancouver for his first training camp with the Canucks.

“It’s a great city,” he said. “And you come here, you feel automatically in hockey mode because you know that you’re getting ready to play soon.”



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