January 29, 2012
Top 10 NHL all-star moments
By DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency
All-star games, by their very nature, aren't usually all that memorable.
I mean, if you've seen one 11-10 NHL all-star game, you've seen 'em all, right? Let's face it, the league's biggest names don't have much incentive to play hard enough to actually make the game interesting. Without a high tempo, physical play and, well a modicum of defence, hockey becomes a glorified game of shinny. And that's about as much fun for true hockey fans to watch as the Olympic field hockey tournament.
That said, there have been more than a few memorable moments at the annual NHL all-star game. Here are the 10 best.
10. Ovie gets creative
Listen, I'm not a big fan of using props at any time,` but Alex Ovechkin's hat and sunglasses act -- with some wardrobe help from Evgeni Malkin -- during the 2009 skills competition was pretty memorable. It was a gimmick, sure, and would wear pretty thin if everyone started doing it, but you can't dispute that it was worthy of a chuckle. It was probably the most unforgettable moment of the festivities that year and it happened before the game.
9. Nolan's called shot
One moment stands out from the 1997 all-star game -- Owen Nolan's called shot on Dominic Hasek, arguably the best goalie in the game at that point. I can still vividly remember Nolan streaking down his off wing -- OK, maybe streaking suggests he was going faster than he was -- pointing at the top corner then ripping a shot past Hasek for the hat trick. It wasn't as dramatic as Babe Ruth's called shut but, heck, it was still pretty cool.
8. Mr. Irrelevant
When team captain Alex Ovechkin made Phil Kessel squirm in his seat for a few seconds before making him the last pick in the 2011 all-star game, the moment was etched into the memory of Leafs haters across Canada. Gotta admit, it was a little uncomfortable watching Kessel go through that for, in all likelihood, the first time in his life. But, hey, at least Kessel got a car, the gift given to the last player picked, for his brief moment of embarrassment.
7. Heatley's four-bagger
Long before he was the most reviled player in Ottawa, Heatley had Sens fans hoppin' by scoring four consecutive goals -- plus the Eastern Conference's only tally in the shootout -- during the 2003 all-star game in Florida. The performance put Heatley into some select company. Only four other players -- Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Vincent Damphousse and Mike Gartner -- have scored four times in one all-star game.
6. Fightin' mad
Yes, this was before my time but, sheesh, wouldn't it be nice to see at least a smidgen of the intensity that showed through in the 1951 game? There were not one, but two, fights during the game at Maple Leaf Gardens and both featured some of the biggest stars ever. First, Gordie Howe squared off with Maurice Richard. Then Ted Lindsay took on Teeder Kennedy. Oh, and the game ended in a 2-2 tie. Can you imagine? Two fights and four goals? In an all-star game? Makes me long for the good ole days.
5. Aced it
Officially, the Ace Bailey Benefit Game in 1934 -- the Toronto Maple Leafs took on the best of the rest of the league -- probably shouldn't count. But the premise for the game makes it noteworthy. Earlier in the 1933-34 season, Boston's Eddie Shore hammered Toronto's Bailey from behind, nearly killing him. Bailey survived but his career came to a premature end, so the NHL held an all-star game to raise money for him. Bailey, who recovered enough to play in the game, showed his class by shaking hands with Shore.
4. Big Al hits triple digits
In this the age of high-tech hockey sticks, it's not surprising that Zdeno Chara set a record for the hardest shot during last year's skills competition. But in 1993, when Washington Capitals defenceman Al Iafrate hammered a shot that hit a mind-blowing 105.2 m.p.h., he used an old-school wood stick. Triple digits is the norm now but Big Al topped Al MacInnis' winning shot the year before by 12 m.p.h.
3. Gretzky's greatness
Back in 1983, before we truly knew -- and could fully appreciate -- Wayne Gretzky's greatness he gave us a glimpse of what was to come again and again when, playing among the best the league had to offer, he scored four times. All four came in the third period and helped the Campbell Conference to a 9-3 win over the Wales. Four others have since duplicated Gretzky's feat but, at the time, it was an all-star game record performance.
2. Magnificence on display
Not quite four seasons into his storied NHL career, Mario Lemieux showed why one day he would be considered among the best to play the game. At the 39th all-star game in St. Louis in 1988, Lemieux set a record for most points (three goals, three assists) that still has not be equalled. Oh, and before you poo-poo the feat as a product of the all-star game's shinny atmosphere, know this: The Wales Conference won 6-5. Not exactly a shootout like last year, huh? Lemieux was in on every goal and scored the winner in OT.
1. Mr. Hockey's Last Ride
Gordie Howe played in a record 23 NHL all-star games but none stand out from a purely historical standpoint more than his last, in 1980 at the brand new Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. It was a passing of the torch, when a 51-year-old Howe went tete-a-tete with fuzzy-faced NHL phenom Wayne Gretzky, who was playing in his first all-star game. The game being in Detroit, where Howe did his best work before moving on to the WHA, made the moment even more poignant. The four-minute standing ovation he got after being introduced brought a tear to many an eye.