By Phil Hecken (with another big assist from Teebz)
The 2009 NHL All-Star Game will be played today as part of the celebrations surrounding the Canadiens’ 100th anniversary. It will mark the 13th time Montreal has hosted the game (although the first time they’ve done so at the Bell Centre). The uniforms for this game have already been covered nicely by Paul in his ESPN piece, and Teebz has been running a series of all-star-related entries on his blog. This article will focus on some aspects and uniforms of previous all-star games.
The first true NHL All-Star Game was played in 1947, and the All Stars wore these beauties as they defeated the Stanley Cup champion Tornoto Maple Leafs, 4-3. In those days, the All-Star Game format called for the reigning Stanley Cup champion to play a team comprised of all stars from the other teams. Since there were only six teams in the NHL then, the All-Star Game was played prior to the start of the regular season.
It wasn’t until 1969 that the game changed to two all-star teams, one 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 emphasizing 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 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. But, since the All Star Game is returning to Montreal for the first time in 16 years, let’s now focus on those games played in that city.
Although the first league-sanction all-star game wasn’t until 1947, there were “all-star benefit games” prior to that. The first such game was in 1934, for Irvine Wallace “Ace” Bailey, whose career came to an abrupt end on December 12, 1933, when he was hit from behind by Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins, apparently in retaliation for a hit he had received from King Clancy moments earlier, and hit his head on the ice, fracturing his skull. It was feared that Bailey would not survive after severely injuring his head. Bailey and Shore shook hands and embraced at center ice before the game began. One of the teams was comprised the stricken Bailey’s teammates: Toronto Maple Leafs. The other team included the stars of all other National Hockey League clubs and they were so talented that more than half of them were later honored in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Those players would don this sweater. One of those players was Howie Morenz.
Other benefit games were staged in Montreal in the 1930s. The first one was held to benefit the family of Nels Crutchfield in 1936, while the other two were held for tragically lost Canadiens: Howie Morenz (the same man who played in the Ace Bailey benefit) in 1937, and Albert Siebert in 1939.
Montreal hosted the NHL’s seventh non-benefit All-Star Game on October 3, 1953, at the Montreal Forum. The All Stars wore this jersey, which was used from 1950 through 1954. By virtue of their domination of the six-team league at the time, the Canadiens hosted the annual event five straight years between 1956 and 1960. The All Stars wore a white sweater until 1959. In 1960, the 14th NHL All-Star Game was played in Montreal, and this time the Canadiens wore orange and black uniforms instead of their traditional red, white and blue jersey.
With the 1967-68 expansion and the NHL going from six to 12 teams in two divisions, the All-Star Game format changed and would now feature the Eastern Conference All-Stars playing the Western Conference counterparts. Furthermore, the All-Star Game became a mid-season event instead of being held at the start of the season. On January 21, 1969, in a newly renovated Forum, the 22nd NHL All-Star Game featured an East-West match-up that ended in a 3-3 tie. The teams wore these uniforms for that game.
The NHL All-Star Game would return to the Forum in 1975 (decent video footage can be seen here). Uniforms retained their basic black and orange colors, and in 1975, Bobby Orr wore this. By this time, there were 18 teams in the NHL, playing in two conferences of two divisions each. The All-Star Game format changed once again to reflect the new alignment, pitting the Wales Conference against the Campbell Conference.
My fondest memories of the All-Star game were when the game took place back in the 1970s and 1980s, between the then Campbell and Wales Conferences. The jerseys varied only slightly then, featuring the black and orange look many of us fondly remember. From 1994-1997 after realignment and the renaming of the divisions to “Eastern” and “Western,” sweaters took on the new look. Trying to generate new excitement, in 1998, the format switched to North America versus “The World”. The jerseys would get progressively worse (see Teebz’s site for more pics), and the NHL reverted back to Eastern versus Western in 2003. The only saving grace during this time occurred in 2004, when the NHL switched to these beauties. It wouldn’t last long however, because by 2007, Reebok took over hockey and introduced the world to the Edge jersey. We’ve been subjected to unis like this for the past two seasons. Fortunately, this year’s uniforms are a nice upgrade.