Guest Author - Kevin Thorburn
With the 2008 version of the National Hockey League’s annual All-Star Game to be played some notes on how the game came into being should prove interesting. It wasn’t always a congenial no-hitting affair as it is today.
The first game billed as an all-star game was to benefit Ace Bailey of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his family. Bailey almost died after a brutal hit from Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins. This ended Bailey’s career and the game was held 14 February 1934. It featured the Leafs against a team of all-stars from the league’s other teams, with the Leafs winning 7-3.
The next such game would be 3 November 1937 as a benefit to the family of superstar Howie Morenz of the Montreal Canadiens. Morenz was hit by Earl Seibert of the Chicago Black Hawks and had his leg shattered. While in hospital he died as a result of a heart attack. The format of this game saw one team made up of all-stars from the Canadiens and the Montreal Maroons playing a team of all-stars from the other teams in the league. The league’s stars beat the stars from the two Montreal teams 6-5.
1939 saw the drowning death of Babe Seibert of the Canadiens and a benefit all-star game was organized on 29 October featuring the Canadiens playing a team of all-stars from the league’s other teams. The All-Stars won 5-2.
It wasn’t until the 1947-48 NHL season that the league would hold an “official” all-star game when it would become an annual tradition. The league arranged it so that the Stanley Cup champions would play a team comprised of all-stars from the rest of the league. This first game was played in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens and would see the All-Stars win 4-3. The league kept this format until 1969 with the exception of 1951 and 1952 when the NHL tried a Canadian based team versus an American based team structure. The team from the Leafs and the Canadiens was called the Second team and the team from the rest of the league called the First team.
In 1969 the game changed to two all-star teams, one team being from the West Division and the other from the East Division. This stayed relatively unchanged, except for changes in the division or conference names until the NHL thought of emphasising the global nature of the game by having the North American all-stars play against the World all-stars. This system came into effect for the 1998 game and stayed until the 2003 season when they reverted back to the East/West format.
MVPs or Most Valuable Players of the game were announced starting with the 1962 game when Eddie Shack was named MVP. A few years later the MVP would be given a car as a prize for his accomplishments.
This year’s game in Atlanta should see some entertaining hockey even without the league’s best player, Sidney Crosby, who is out with an injury. The entertainment witnessed by the fans has changed over the years. Once a game complete with checking, defence and strong competition, it is now purely for fun and a chance for the NHL to promote its talent.