The NHL all-star game has seen many formats over the decades. Ideas come and go to combat low intensity levels from players whose top priority is not to get injured, but interest seemed to pick up at last year’s game, so there’s hope.
In the latest edition of NHL 100, a weekly series from The Canadian Press, we take a look at all-star games over the years:
HOD STUART BENEFIT
The first hockey all-star game pre-dated the NHL. On Jan. 2, 1908, the Montreal Wanderers defeated the all-stars of the Eastern Canadian Amateur Hockey Association 10-7 in a game that drew about 3,500 spectators and raised $2,000 for Stuart’s family. The defenceman had drowned three months after helping the Wanderers win the 1907 Stanley Cup.
ACE BAILEY GAME
On Feb. 14, 1934, the Toronto Maple Leafs faced the NHL all-stars in a game that raised more than $20,000 for the star forward, whose career was ended by a crushing check from Boston’s Eddie Shore. The 14,074 fans were thrilled to see Bailey, who took part in the ceremonial faceoff, shake Shore’s hand in an act of forgiveness.
Benefit games were held for Canadiens Howie Morenz (Nov. 3, 1937) and Babe Siebert (Oct. 29,1939). Morenz died in hospital after breaking a leg in five places while Siebert had drowned during the off-season. The Morenz game saw the Canadiens and Montreal Maroons team up to lose 6-5 to the league all-stars while the Canadiens fell 5-2 to the stars in the Siebert game.
The all-star game became an annual event on Oct. 13, 1947, pitting the Stanley Cup champion Leafs against stars from the other teams. Harry Watson’s goal and two assists helped Toronto to a 3-1 lead, but Maurice Richard tied it and assisted on the winner by Chicago’s Doug Bentley in the third period.
Previously played before the start of the regular season, the game moved to mid-season just before the league expanded from six to 12 teams. The Canadiens beat the all-stars 3-0 on Jan. 18, 1967, at the Montreal Forum on two goals from John Ferguson. Charlie Hodge and Garry Bauman combined for the shutout.
In 1979, instead of the usual game, the NHL all-stars played a historic three-game series against the Soviet Union in New York. Canadian fans were stunned as, after splitting the first two games, the Soviets crushed the almost all Canadian stars 6-0 in the final. The series prompted some coaches and officials to realize the Canadian game needed retooling.
So much had changed when the NHL stars led by six Edmonton Oilers split two fast-paced, spectacular games with the Soviets in Quebec City. The Soviet Union was starting to unravel under Mikhail Gorbachev. Several on the Soviet squad ended up in the NHL. The event was a massive success and everyone went home happy.
The all-star weekend as we know it began in 1990 in Pittsburgh, when Mario Lemieux’s four goals helped the Wales Conference beat the Campbell 12-7. The Heroes of Hockey old-timers game and the skills competition debuted, as did mics on refs and coaches and TV player interviews during stoppages. The game moved from midweek to Sunday afternoon seeking U.S. television exposure.
The game was getting out of hand in 2001 when the North American stars beat the World stars 14-12 in Denver. It had become a friendly shinny match. Bill Guerin had five points. Mats Sundin scored twice. After five years, the international format was scrapped and the game reverted to East vs. West in 2003.
The next big idea was to have two captains select teams like kids in a pick-up game. Someone had to be picked last, and Phil Kessel suffered that indignity in 2011. In 2015, Jonathan Toews made Kessel his first pick, then traded him to Nick Foligno’s team for Tyler Seguin to much laughter all around.
There has been joke campaigns for marginal players before in all-star fan voting, but none ever worked as well as with Arizona enforcer John Scott, who was elected to play in 2016. The league wanted him to bow out voluntarily, and he was mysteriously traded and sent to the minors. But Scott stuck to his guns and ended up being welcomed by the NHL. He scored twice and was named all-star MVP.
While Scott had the spotlight, the Nashville weekend last year also saw the league hit on a format that was actually somewhat entertaining. It had teams from the four divisions in a 3-on-3 mini-tournament. The Pacific Division beat the Atlantic 1-0 in the final on Corey Perry’s goal and, at least to some degree, it seemed that winning mattered.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press