Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Where The Games Have No Name

Ok, that title isn't entirely true. However, there have been a few occasions where the NHL All-Star Game wasn't played, and these need to be reviewed as well. In fact, there's an All-Star Game cancellation coming up in the next couple of years, so there should be some talk about the other games that have replaced the NHL All-Star Game. Yesterday, we looked at the changes throughout the years that the ASG has seen, along with its origins and some of the early pre-ASG benefit games. With that in mind, there have been five instances where the NHL has not held an All-Star Game as we know it, and these should also be looked at in-depth. Which is why I'm here. Let's take a look at these five instances.

The first instance of the NHL canceling the All-Star Game came in 1979. The NHL, looking to capitalize on the growing interest in international hockey, invited the feared Soviet Union to New York City to play a three-game series, called the Challenge Cup, against a team of NHL All-Stars. The games were scheduled for February 8, February 10, and February 11 at Madison Square Garden.

The NHL All-Stars were, as their name implies, a star-studded bunch. Their lineup included Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Steve Shutt, Gilbert Perreault, Marcel Dionne, Lanny McDonald, Bob Clarke (captain), Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Barry Beck, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Robert Picard, Denis Potvin, Bill Barber, Don Marcotte, Tony Esposito, Ken Dryden, Gerry Cheevers, Ron Greschner, Borje Salming, Ulf Nilsson, and Anders Hedberg.

They were met by the Big Red Machine from the USSR. The Soviet roster included future NHL and international stars such as Sergei Makarov, Vladislav Tretiak, Vladimir Myshkin, Boris Mikhailov, Sergei Starikov, Valery Kharlamov, and Valeri Vasiliev (captain).

Game One at Madison Square Garden saw 17,438 fans cheer on the NHL All-Stars against the evil Soviets. They didn't have to wait long to rise from their seats as Guy Lafleur scored a goal just 16 seconds into the game on passes from Steve Shutt and Bobby Clarke. Mike Bossy made it 2-0 for the NHL All-Stars on the powerplay while Vladimir Petrov was in the penalty box. Bossy converted a feed from Gilbert Perreault and Lafleur past Tretiak before the game was seven minutes old, giving the crowd all the more reason to be rowdy. However, with Clark Gillies in the box, Boris Mikhailov scored on Ken Dryden on passes from Valeri Vasiliev and Valery Kharlamov. The Soviets began methodically wearing down the NHL All-Star's momentum. Three minutes after the Soviets' powerplay marker, Bob Gainey restored the NHL's two-goal lead, connecting on a goal from Bill Barber and Barry Beck. The NHL All-Stars carried a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

In the second period, the NHL All-Stars extended their lead as two New York Islanders connected. Clark Gillies beat Tretiak on a pass from Mike Bossy to make the score 4-1. A quiet second period led into a quiet third period where Vladimir Golikov scored on Dryden on passes from Aleksandr Golikov and Sergei Makarov. The NHL All-Stars, much to the delight of the MSG fans, took Game One over the Soviet Union by a 4-2 score.

17,438 fans packed MSG on February 10 for Game Two. The Soviets opened the scoring with Sergei Kapustin beating Dryden on a pass from Sergei Starikov. However, New York was rocking on the next two goals as the Islanders stamped their mark on the first period. Mike Bossy beat Tretiak on the powerplay as Vladimir Kovin was in the sin bin on passes from Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies. Bossy returned the favour five minutes later as Trottier converted a pass from Gillies and Bossy to give the NHL All-Stars a 2-1 advantage heading into the intermission.

The second period resembled an NHL All-Star Game as goals starting piling up on the scoresheet. Gilbert Perreault beat Tretiak on a feed from Darryl Sittler just 27 seconds into the frame to give the NHL a 3-1 lead. 1:38 later, Mikhail Varnakov potted a goal from Alexander Skvortsov. 3:01 after that, Larry Robinson scored a goal on passes from Lafleur and Marcel Dionne.

It was at this point that the Soviets began to exert their dominance. The Soviets began to fly, using their speed and superior positioning to get shots off from all over the place. Defensively, they shut down the neutral zone and caused turnovers all over the place, allowing their transition game to take over. And that it did. With Barry Beck in the penalty box, Boris Mikhailov scored on feeds from Vladimir Petrov and Valeri Vasiliev. 45 seconds after the powerplay marker, the Soviets struck again as Kapustin scored his second goal of the game from Viktor Zhluktov. Before the fans at MSG knew it, the game was tied 4-4 with the third period to play.

At the 1:31 mark of the third period, the Soviets took the lead and never looked back. Vladimir Golikov netted a goal from Sergei Makarov, and sent the New York fans home disappointed as their suffocating defensive style delivered a 5-4 win.

Game Three - the rubber match - was nothing more than a display of the Soviets talent and stubbornness, and the 17,545 fans at MSG got to witness the Soviets' power first-hand. Gerry Cheevers drew the assignment in net against Vladimir Myshkin, and both players held the game scoreless into the second period. However, the Soviets simply wore the NHL All-Stars down with their relentless defensive game, and the NHL All-Stars began to make mistakes.

Boris Mikhailov scored his third goal of the challenge, converting a feed from Aleksandr Golikov. Two minutes later, the Soviets struck on the powerplay as Don Marcotte watched from the penalty box. Viktor Zhluktov tallied the marker on assists from Helmut Balderis and Valeri Vasiliev. As the second period drew to a close, the NHL All-Stars were down 2-0 and were looking at a tough climb uphill.

Eight minutes into the third period, and the Soviets made the hole a little deeper. Helmut Balderis scored on a pass from Irek Grimayev to make it 3-0. Two and a half minutes later, it became 4-0 on a goal from Vladimir Kovin on passes by Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Varnakov. Two and a half minutes after that, it was 5-0 as Sergei Makarov scored on a pass from Sergei Kapustin. And two minutes after that, Aleksandr Golikov scored an unassisted goal to round out the scoring, giving the Soviets a 6-0 shutout win over the NHL All-Stars. The win also gave the Soviets a 2-1 series win over the NHL All-Stars and the Challenge Cup.

Some interesting things came out of this series. Boris Mikhailov of the Soviets mouthed the words in Alan Eagleson's direction, "Soviets: one; Kanadski: two", telling the world that Canada was now the #2 country in hockey. Said NHL All-Star head coach Scotty Bowman of the Soviet players, "They're beautiful skaters, eh? Beautiful skaters, whew". The Soviets put the world on notice in 1979 that they were the dominant power in hockey.

The second event to replace the NHL All-Star Game took place in 1987 in Quebec City. Rendez-Vous '87 was a return of the NHL vs. USSR series that was first seen at the Challenge Cup. The series between the NHL All-Stars and Soviet teams would be a two-game series with games being played on February 11 and February 13, 1987.

Much like the Challenge Cup roster was stocked with Montreal Canadiens, the Edmonton Oilers had a large contingent in Quebec City. Six Oilers are part of the 22 players on the NHL All-Stars roster. On the other side of the ledger, the USSR roster was literally a look at the first major wave of Soviet defectors to play in the NHL.

Game One of the two-game series was played at Le Colisée in Quebec City in front of 15,398 fans. Jari Kurri put the NHL All-Stars up 1-0 in the first, converting passes from Wayne Gretzky and Esa Tikkanen. Glenn Anderson made it 2-0 at the 17:00 mark the second, beating Evgeny Belosheikin on a pass from Mario Lemieux. However, Alexei Kasatonov cut the deficit to one goal 1:43 later as his shot beat Grant Fuhr on a pass from Sergei Makarov. The NHL All-Stars led the Soviet squad by a 2-1 score at the end of 40 minutes.

Viacheslav Bykov evened the score at 2:03 into the third period as he converted passes from Andrei Khomutov and Sergei Starikov. At 7:03, the NHL All-Stars jumped ahead on a goal by Kevin Dineen from Dave Poulin and Dale Hawerchuk. USSR's Anatoli Semenov made it a 3-3 game at the 8:04 mark with assists to Mikhail Tatarinov and Mikhail Varnakov. In dramatic fashion, Dave Poulin scored the game-winning goal with 1:15 left on passes from Mario Lemieux and Doug Wilson.

There were a number of complaints in Game One about the refereeing done by Soviet Sergei Morozov. He called only one infraction against the Soviets despite several questionable plays. The NHL All-Stars were able to overcome the issue, though, and set up a chance for redemption in Game Two.

Game Two at Le Colisée was witnessed by 15,395 fans. Once again, the NHL All-Stars got on the board early as Mark Messier scored on ten seconds into a powerplay at the 3:32 mark while Sergei Nemchinov sat in the penalty box. Gretzky and Kurri drew the assists on the play. The Soviets and NHL All-Stars battled their way into the first intermission at that 1-0 score.

The second period belonged to the Soviets. Valeri Kamensky beat Grant Fuhr at the 3:13 mark with Khomutov and Bykov picking up the helpers. 2:28 later, the KLM line got in on the action as Vladimir Krutov scored on a setup from Viacheslav Fetisov and Igor Larionov. With the Soviets up 2-1, the NHL All-Stars looked to get out of the period and regroup. However, Valeri Kamensky scored his second goal of the period, unassisted, at the 19:41 mark, killing any momentum the NHL All-Stars had built.

With the NHL winning Game One by one goal, they needed a tie or a win to secure the Rendez-Vous '87 title. Doug Wilson brought the NHL All-Stars within a goal when he scored on the powerplay at the 7:33 mark with Nemchinov in the box again. Gretzky picked up another assist, along with Michel Goulet. At 9:19, the KLM line struck again. Krutov converted a feed from Larionov to put the Soviets up 4-2. The Soviets made it 5-2 when Khomutov banged home a pass from Valeri Kamensky. As the seconds ticked away, Ray Bourque hammered home a goal from Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky as the NHL All-Stars pressed for the tie. However, it was not to be as the Soviets hung on to win 5-3 in Game Two.

With the win, the aggregate total for goals was 8-7 in favour of the Soviet squad, and they officially won Rendez-Vous '87. From this series, it was apparent that the USSR team was a well-built, well-coached team. NHL President John Ziegler stated after the series that NHL players would never play in Olympic competition and that Russians would never be successful in the NHL. Could he have been more wrong? And to make matters worse, Sports Illustrated was having a difficult time reporting on the event while being in Quebec City. They publish programs so things like this don't happen. And in some excellent spirit and sportsmanship, the two teams swapped jerseys at on the ice at the end of Game Two. Very classy, gentlemen!

The next two cancellations are for the same reason: labour strife. The 1995 NHL All-Star Game was canceled due to the players' strike. The 2005 NHL All-Star Game was canceled due to the NHL Lock Out. While other events were happening during this time, none officially replaced the NHL All-Star Game, so I won't look at those.

The last cancellation, as well as the 2010 cancellation, are for the same reason: the Winter Olympics. The XX Winter Olympiad in 2006 in Turin, Italy replaced the All-Star Game. Since the Olympics are practically an All-Star Game as it is, this is understandable.

While I won't go through each and every game of the Olympics, I will post the final standings as to who finished where.

1. Sweden
2. Finland
3. Czech Republic
4. Russia
5. Slovakia
6. Switzerland
7. Canada
8. United States
9. Kazakhstan
10. Germany
11. Italy
12. Latvia

The Swedes, led by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, captured the gold medal over their Scandinavian rivals from Finland. Canada and the US seriously underwhelmed, and it is thought that they will both be looking for redemption in 2010 in Vancouver for their poor showings in Italy.

The XXI Winter Olympiad in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada at GM Place and the UBC Winter Sports Centre.

Tomorrow, I'll be looking at fashion at the All-Star Game - namely, the jerseys the players have been wearing over the years. There will also be a piece on the officials as we've seen one very questionable referee design, and there's apparently another on the way. Lots of pictures tomorrow so get your clicking finger ready!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: