Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Tracing The Roots

The 57th NHL All-Star Game takes place on Sunday, January 25 in Montreal, Quebec. While hockey courses through the veins of every Montreal fan, the game has looked considerably different from era to era in the NHL. Starting today and running right through the weekend, Hockey Blog In Canada will be looking at the history and looks of past NHL All-Star Games as Montreal hosts the NHL for the mid-season game. This is the third time since the 1967 expansion to twelve teams that Montreal will host the game, and it’s a perfect celebration for their 100-year Centennial celebration considering all the stars they’ve sent to the All-Star Games over the years.

There will be a look at statistics, the skills competition, records set and records broken, and the jerseys worn in the games. Most recently, the game has taken the flair to new levels, and this year’s jerseys are no exception. However, today is a look back at some of the more memorable games, how the the annual event has changed, and how the NHL All-Star Game got its traditional, mid-season start.

Let’s start with some history of the NHL All-Star Game, and some significant changes seen through the years.

The first official NHL All-Star Game was held at the start of the 1947 season after the end of World War II. The NHL All-Star Game took place on October 13, 1947 at Maple Leaf Gardens, and featured the defending Stanley Cup Champions playing against a team of stars made up from the other five teams. In the first NHL All-Star Game, the NHL All-Stars defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs by a 4-3 score. The All-Star Game was used to promote the game of hockey after the war by featuring the best team in hockey playing the best players from the rest of the league. A sold-out Maple Leaf Gardens proved successful, and plans were made for another game the following season.

While it was supposed to be the Stanley Cup-winning team hosting the All-Star Game, the 1948 NHL All-Star Game was played in Chicago due to negotiations made at the first All-Star Game in Toronto. Due to this agreement, the game was played three weeks into the NHL season at Chicago Stadium with the NHL All-Stars defeating the Maple Leafs by a 3-1 score.

After the date changed in Chicago, the game resumed its regular spot on the calendar prior to the season starting until the 1966-67 season when the game moved to mid-season to promote the six new teams joining the NHL in the following year. Every year following the Chicago game also saw the Cup-winning team host the game. With the new format of a mid-season game, the All-Star selections were made over a year prior, and the Stanley Cup-winning team had changed significantly a year and a half later, so the move to mid-season was heavily criticized by scribes and fans alike.

In order to bring back support and interest in the NHL All-Star Game, the NHL introduced the Skills Competition and Heroes of Hockey game on the Saturday of the All-Star Weekend in 1990 at the 41st NHL All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. Support for the game had plummeted, and the NHL needed a boost to draw interest back to the mid-season break. The Heroes of Hockey game featured retired NHL alumni from the host team against alumni from the rest of the NHL. The game was seen more as a fun game, and the crowd had a chance to talk to some the past NHL superstars. The 41st All-Star Game was also the first NHL game to appear on national US television since Game Six of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final.

The 44th NHL All-Star Game in Montreal in 1993 was the last time that teams would be known as the Campbell Conference All-Stars and the Wales Conference All-Stars. The 45th NHL All-Star Game in New York City the following year saw the teams named as the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively.

In 1996, at the 46th NHL All-Star Game in Boston, Fox Sports introduced the FoxTrax puck, hoping to help American viewers find and track the puck on the ice with a blue hue around the puck. While a reported 7 out of 10 viewers claimed to like the FoxTrax puck, the overall feeling towards it by players and traditionalists was that it was a gimmick. Ultimately, it met its demise in 1998. It was last seen in Game One of the 1998 Stanley Cup Final on Fox. ABC bought the US rights to hockey in August of 1998, and the FoxTrax puck was never seen again. I'll speak a little more about how the puck worked later this week.

In 1998, in preparation for the Nagano Winter Olympics, the NHL changed the format of the All-Star Game from East vs. West to North America vs. the World at the 48th NHL All-Star Game in Vancouver. The All-Star Weekend also featured an exhibition game between Team Canada’s women’s team and Team USA’s women’s team. The North American All-Stars won the game 8-7, and Teemu Selanne was the first European-born player to receive the All-Star Game MVP after recording a hat trick.

The 52nd NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles in 2002 saw the Heroes of Hockey game retired and replaced with the NHL YoungStars Game that pitted rookies from the East vs. rookies from the West in a 4-on-4 game. Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk scored six goals for Team Melrose as Team Melrose defeated Team Fox 13-7 in the first YoungStars Game.

The 53rd NHL All-Star Game in Miami in 2003 saw the format switch back to the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference. This was the first NHL All-Star Game decided by a shootout as the teams were deadlocked at 5-5 at the end of regulation time. The West won the shootout 3-1, and won the game 6-5.

The 55th NHL All-Star Game in Dallas in 2007 was notable for two reasons: the Rory Fitzpatrick voting debacle, and the introduction of the Rbk EDGE uniform system. Fitzpatrick had recorded one point in 22 games with the Vancouver Canucks that season up to that point, but ended up third in fan voting for the All-Star Game. Had he finished second, he would have been a starter, forcing the NHL to allow him to play in the game. However, his third place finish did not guarantee him a spot on the roster, and he was not selected. The EDGE uniform system is well-known by hockey viewers by now, and there’s no need to hammer away on that one. I'll save that for later in the week.

Of course, there have been other games where the best players have congregated in order to pay tribute to one of their own. These benefit games have a special place in hockey folklore because of the family element amongst the players, even before the NHLPA got involved.

The Ace Bailey Benefit Game was the first of the NHL’s benefit games. There have been many stories told of what happened to Ace Bailey, but I’m going to use a passage from Ross Bernstein’s book, entitled The Code, to bring light to how this game came about. The men involved were Ace Bailey and King Clancy of the Maple Leafs, and Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins.

"It happened on December 12, 1933, in Toronto, when Shore’s Boston Bruins were in town to face the Maple Leafs. Shore was rushing the puck up the ice and was thumped at the blue line by Toronto’s King Clancy. When no penalty was called, an irate Shore exacted revenge by plowing Leaf winger Ace Bailey with a vicious hit from behind. Bailey, a future Hall of Famer known for his speed and stickhandling, was sent crashing headfirst onto the ice, where he suffered a severely fractured skull.

"Bailey fell into a coma and for more than two weeks his life hung in the balance. Two brain surgeries later, he recovered – only to learn that he would never play hockey again."

As a result of Bailey's injuries, Shore was suspended for 16 games - lengthy when you consider that it was one-third of the 48-game season. Maple Leaf defenceman Red Horner, who had come to Bailey's defence as he lay on the ice, sucker-punched Shore and was suspended for the remainder of the 1932-33 season.

After hearing of Bailey's fate, Walter Gilhooley, editor of the Journal in Montreal, proposed a benefit game to help Bailey's family in the wake of this tragedy. On January 24, 1934, the NHL's Board of Governors approved the idea of the Ace Bailey Benefit Game, and it was scheduled for February 14, 1934.

I turn to Foster Hewitt's recollection of the Ace Bailey Benefit Game to which Boston's Eddie Shore had been invited.

"A few cheers started as Shore slowly skated from the line of stars towards Bailey. Then, the burly Shore, now wearing a helmet, extended his ungloved hand to Ace. Bailey leaned forward to grasp it and, for a brief moment, Shore spoke softly to Ace. The latter nodded, then broadly smiled. Shore turned to leave with his gifts, then ambled back to make another friendly remark as photographers pictured the pair while shaking hands.

"Shore skated back into line but, during the entire meeting of the pair, the spectators roared their approval in one continuing chant of appreciation. Throughout the entire introduction, not a single disapproving voice was heard in a capacity crowd that exceeded fourteen thousand."

The Maple Leafs throttled the NHL All-Stars 7-3 in the game. After the game, Conn Smythe told Ace Bailey that the #6 he wore would be retired by the Leafs. This is a huge event in the world of sports as Bailey's #6 is officially recognized as the first number to be retired in any major professional sport, including the NHL.

The second benefit game was for Montreal Canadiens' superstar Howie Morenz. Morenz's hockey career came to an end on January 28, 1937 during a game at the Montreal Forum between the Canadiens and Chicago Black Hawks. Morenz was checked into the boards by Earl Seibert on a seemingly harmless hit, but his leg shattered in five places upon hitting the wooden boards.

Morenz was determined to try and get back to the ice, but he became increasingly depressed as well-wishers stopped by. Doctors told him that his hockey career was over as he lay in the hospital bed. Unfortunately, Howie Morenz passed away from a heart attack on March 8, 1937. His teammate, Aurel Joliat, was convinced that Morenz died of a broken heart.

November 3, 1937 saw an All-Star team made up of the Montreal Canadiens and Montreal Maroons play the rest of the NHL All-Stars. The NHL All-Stars defeated the Montreal All-Stars by a 6-5 score. Morenz's #7 was retired by the Montreal Canadiens that night.

The third benefit game to take place was for Montreal Canadiens' coach Babe Siebert. Siebert had retired at the end of the 1938-39 season, and was asked to coach the Canadiens, which he accepted. However, he tragically holds the distinction of being the only head coach in NHL history to never record a win, loss or tie in his coaching career. Why, you ask? Siebert drowned in Lake Huron at the age of 35 in the summer of 1939 before the '39-40 season started.

Siebert's family was left in a financial bind, so the NHL came to their aid by planning a benefit game in Siebert's honour. October 29, 1939 saw 6000 people attend the Montreal Forum for a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL All-Stars. The event raised over $15,000 for Siebert's young family, and the NHL All-Stars went on to defeat the Canadiens by a 5-2 score.

Tomorrow, I will look at the years where the All-Star Game was cancelled or replaced, and what happened during these years. This will also be an interesting look at some of the NHL's history. Tune in for more All-Star Game information as we prepare for the 57th NHL All-Star Game on Sunday from La Belle Province!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Anonymous said...

Dude, how do you find the time to research and write this, read and post over at Uni Watch AND consume all the hockey information that you do?

Good stuff, by the way.

Teebz said...

I've multi-tasking down to an art form. ;o)

Tony Jones! said...

You didn't discuss the extremely fishy circumstance in which Rory Fitzpatrick lost that vote. Correct me if im wrong, but the NHL had a rule in '07 in which a ballot wouldn't count unless all the six positions from each conference were filled out. And then in the last week Nick Lidstrom got more votes than possible under the NHL rules (since he got more votes alone than total votes cast for anyone else).

This combined with the exteremely fishy Pens numbers this year, its like Florida 2000 all over again in the NHL.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know what Shore said to Bailey. I first read about this in one of my hockey history books. It is a shame that hockey fans were robbed of the stickhandling skills of Bailey. There were other stickhandlers but he was adept. I wonder how they'd have faced off against stickhandling pros of today.