Custom Search

An old format could rejuvenate the All-Star game

Like everyone who follows this site, I’m a hockey guy and have loved the sport since I first started following and watching it in the late 1950s.

Now, with regard to the All-Star game, chances are I will not be watching much, just as I never watch the NFL Pro Bowl or the NBA All-Star game.  (Because of the non-physical nature of baseball, I can watch the mid-season “classic” with some interest because the game is not that different from a regular season game, but I generally nod off after a couple of innings.)

Most of us likely agree that these games are much more, in this day and age at least, about marketing, sponsor freebies and public relations than the on-ice product itself.  The game itself is meaningless.  (At least they haven’t, like baseball, tried to drum up false interest by saying the winning Conference hosts the Stanley Cup final.)

Hockey scores of 14-10 just don’t captivate me.  If you eliminate hitting and just make it a game of pond hockey (and I love pond hockey—kids should spend way more time on ponds than in arenas…) with no meaningful rivalry or sense of tradition, for me  it all lacks the intensity that makes the sport special.

In any event, I understand why we still have the game and why many people like to watch.  On a pure “fun” level, it’s neat, I’m sure.  But there’s no real rivalry, no history to draw on to make the players feel the game is anything more than an extended skills competition.  (Though I admit I did like Owen Nolan 'calling his shot' on that breakaway years ago…)

What would really bring back at least a bit of the special feeling is if they went back to the Stanley Cup champions hosting the game against a team of All-Stars.  That might generate a lot more player passion, at least in terms of competitive fires being lit.

They could still keep some of the current trinkets, like this year's efforts at creating interest through naming the roster through a televised draft.  If you had the Cup champions in automatically, you could name two co-captains (if you want to continue with what they started this year) and have them pick their team a week or so before the game.  You'd still have the skills competition and all the sponsor glad-handing, but the All-Star game itself might take on a bit more of a competitive nature, without guys having to go overboard in terms of intensity and risking injury.

When I was a kid the All-Star game was actually played just before the opening of the regular season, in early October.  The defending Stanley Cup champion would play at home against a real All-Star team, the best players on the remaining five (there were only six teams back in the ‘50s and most of the ‘60s) teams. 

I believe the last game under this “format” was in early 1968, when Toronto was the reigning Stanley Cup champion.  But the game was moved, if I’m not mistaken (and I could be wrong) to the middle of the season that year.  Punch Imlach coached the Leafs against the All-Stars, who included guys from the new expansion teams.  I seem to recall Mike Walton got into a near dust-up with Detroit’s legendary Gordie Howe, pictured at the top of this story in early 1960s All-Star game action at the Gardens against Johnny Bower and the Leafs.  (Walton, while more a skill guy, could throw’ em a bit, but I’m not sure that would have ended well for Mike if it had been a real set-to…)

I’m pretty sure that by the next season, it was an Eastern versus Western Conference format and it stayed that way, in various configurations, for many years afterwards, I believe.

Right now, the NHL is working hard to try new things to make the game and the All-Star selections themselves more interesting and newsworthy leading up to the game.

For me, the simple answer is going back to what worked forty years ago.  I’d be way more interested in seeing the Penguins host the game against a team of the 20 best players from the other 29 teams.  (Now that would really be a hard All-Star team to make.)

Then we might see some good clean hitting, and a lot more pride on the line.  Goals would actually mean something in, say, a 4-3 game.

And maybe even more people would end up caring- and watching.


  1. Bravo, Michael! Capital idea. I agree totally. You wouldn't necessarily have to have to play the game in the city of the defending Stanley Cup champs, either. All you would need to do is make sure the host city has one representative.

    The problem would be that not every team would get a representative. But that is already the case in the NBA.

    14-10 games are occasionally fun ... but not at this level. No, this would bring some badly needed passion and pride back into the game. You can still hold all the other fal-de-rol that accompanies these sort of events now. (Maybe that is where you let the hometown kid have his moment.) I think you're onto something here.

  2. What was interesting about that 1968 All Star Game?

    1) Al Smith, who didn't play one second of game time with the Leafs that year, not only played, and played well, AND got the win!

    2) Two players wore helmets (J.C. Tremblay and Brian Conacher. Bill Masterton had died the previous day (Jan 15, 1968)

    3) Bruce Gamble was the game's MVP

    4) The game may actually exist (tv tape), in colour as I've seen player introductions (Pulford, Stanley, Walton, plus Orr for the All Stars) and it was carried by NBC Sports!

    5) Gordie Howe took two penalties. My, "how" times have changed. He once fought Maurice Richard in an All Star Game! Actually, every penalty by the All Stars was committed by a player whose first three letters of their last name were h,o,w,e. Harry Howell committed the other penalty for the All Stars.

    6) Bobby Orr wore #5 (Beliveau). The only other number (besides 4) I've seen him wear was 27!

    7) Speaking of which, this would be one of The Big M's last great moments as a Leaf.

    8) Speaking of which, Ullman scored the game's last goal with assists going to Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr (No matter Howe old you are Orr Howe young you are, you can always assist!)

    9) Pete Stemkowski (part of the Mahovlich deal) and Mike Walton (Originally part of the Mahovlich deal) got the only penalties for the Leafs.

    10) The number "19" was not worn by ANY player in the game. But the Leafs would acquire one soon, and then in September of 1972!

  3. I would like to see the game we are referencing ('68 All-Star game) on film, for sure.

    Yes, Bealiveau had "seniority" over Orr!

    And it's true, Walton was supposed to go to Detroit. Unger was the compromise choice, as I recall.

    Great memories. Thanks Scott.