Minute after minute, as events unfolded, millions of Americans sat riveted in horror to the events of an eerie Tuesday morning, wondering what could happen next.
And then it happens. Already shaking our heads in disbelief, along comes another blow.
Someone you know is among the carnage.
Former Boston University forward Mark Bavis (1989-93), along with fellow Los Angeles Kings scout, and long-time NHL player, “Ace” Bailey, were headed back to L.A. for the start of Kings camp. That’s when fate stuck them in the middle of a historically tragic event.
The hockey community is well-known for being a tight-knit group. When the news struck that Bavis was among those lost when a plane was deliberately slammed into the side of one of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, word spread quickly.
Among the first to hear was Jack Parker, BU’s coach of 28 years. Soon thereafter, word got to UMass-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald, an assistant for three years at BU while Bavis was there.
MacDonald was particularly shaken because he had just been with Mark less than two days ago. When he got the call from Parker, the tone in his voice told the story.
“As soon as I picked up the phone, I knew something tragic had happened,” MacDonald said.
“Jack Parker is like a father figure to me, and he’s been through an awful lot in his life. He taught me how to deal with these kinds of situations, but you’re never conditioned for these types of events. It always tests your faith.”
— Dan Donato, former BU teammate of Mark Bavis
When Parker told MacDonald, he still hadn’t gotten a hold of Bavis’ twin brother Mike, a current BU assistant who was on a recruiting trip at a tournament in Calgary.
When news finally reached Mike, that’s when it got to Dan Donato, now the head hockey and baseball coach at Salisbury (Conn.) Prep School, who was a year behind Bavis at BU. In another symbol of the tight-knit hockey community, the cousin of Donato’s wife is Nebraska-Omaha assistant coach Tom Mutch, who was also in Calgary.
“We got a call pretty much right away,” said Donato. “He [Mutch] knows how close I am with those guys. We grew up since I was 5 years old with those guys. We went to Catholic Memorial together, then we each did a post-grad year, and met back at BU.”
The news spread like branches on a tree. One branch would get the news, and before you knew it, the shock waves hit the entire forest of the BU family.
Donato and his brother, Ted, a star at Harvard and long-time NHL player, played together with the Bavis twins on the same Catholic Memorial team, and shared that connection, too.
“You really find out how small the hockey world is,” said Dan Donato. “I remember talking to Teddy [on Tuesday] and all the teammates. He heard from [former BU All-American] Shawn McEachern, who heard from [former BU goalie] Peter Fish. We were all teammates at Catholic Memorial.”
MacDonald also felt, and feels, a special kinship with the Bavis brothers. The Bavis’ father passed away from a heart attack while they were attending BU. MacDonald had lost his father when he was 17.
“I gave them support there, because I had experienced that,” MacDonald said. “What a wonderful family … very strong.”
Ken Rausch, now an assistant with MacDonald at Lowell, was two years behind Bavis. His day was impacted by the terror in more ways than one.
Rausch said a Lowell recruit was flying in from Indianapolis that morning, headed for Newark, N.J. and eventually for Manchester, N.H. That plane was re-routed to Boston.
“Everyone’s heading out of the city, and I had to head into Logan [Airport] to pick this kid up,” said Rausch.
“He landed and he had the sense to call his parents and us. I don’t think he knew the scope at the time. The pilots did tell them that a plane had crashed in New York, but that’s all they really knew.
“We got back to the office here and I was trying to be as upbeat as possible. The first person I see is Blaise, and he said, ‘Did Jack get a hold of you?’ I said, ‘No,’ and he [McDonald] didn’t want to tell me [the news] in front of the recruit. So, I took him to see the guys and came back in the office and asked what’s up.
“I was just floored. I was standing at the time and I just slumped into a chair. I was holding back tears, and I’m sure a couple snuck out. That was probably about 12:30 or 1 p.m.”
Rausch, two years behind Bavis at BU, remembered how each of them began coaching at the same time, helping guide the Massachusetts Select-15 team to a gold medal.
“We had been in the business about the same amount of years,” Rausch said. “He was a great motivating factor for me. He taught me many things of what it’s about to be a Terrier.”
BU’s athletic department later found out that it didn’t end there. Two other members of their family were being mourned today: Tom McGuinness, 42, a swimmer in the late ’70s, was a co-pilot on American Airlines Flight 11; and Brian Sweeney, a football player and 1986 graduate, was on another of the planes.
Meanwhile, the calls kept coming.
“I’ve gotten a bunch of calls from the CM team in ’88,” said Donato. “I got a call from [former Harvard goalie] Chuckie Hughes, from [current Merrimack assistant coach] Mike Doneghy. … The manager of the ’88 team called me last night.
“That class was a special class. There were seven CM kids on my BU team.”
Donato said the news hit him as he was trying to soothe the teenage students around him.
“Here I am, we had opening day at the school, and word hits,” he said. “A good percentage of these kids are from New York. So I’m running, handing out notes to kids, telling them their mom called or their father’s OK. It was like the military, delivering messages to kids.
“Then I get called in out of blue, and I saw my wife crying …
“Not only do I lose a good friend — obviously the hockey side is the least part of it — but he’s such a great guy. He did so much work with USA hockey, he coached at Harvard and Brown. There isn’t a person out there that will say a bad word about him.”
It was a tragedy of epic proportions, for the United States of America, and for all of the individual families who lost loved ones. But having a true family to lean on goes some way toward relieving the pain.
“These are times where you need to lean on people, need to lean on yourself spiritually,” MacDonald said. “You’re not really sure how you’re supposed to feel, that’s the difficult thing. That’s where friends and families come in.
“It’s so overwhelming when you talk to your team. It’s so overwhelming when you try to explain that we need to have compassion for people from Arabic countries that don’t have these beliefs and you stereotype them as evil. Our instincts are to take an eye for an eye, but maybe there’s other ways to deal with it.
“I believe in my heart of hearts, Markie is in a better place right now. I have deep thoughts and prayers for his family, for Michael…”