March 22, 2023

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The NHL All-Star Games were great – the USSR national team came to them. Now even their own players are shirking

“Win the duel. Fuck how you do it.” This is how a football match sounds from the inside

“Win the duel. Fuck how you do it.” This is how a football match sounds from the inside

The All-Star Game in the NHL was conceived as a unique spectacle, all fees from which were sent to help people.

The first such game in the NHL took place on February 14, 1934, and it was organized for Ace Bailey. Two months earlier, the infamous Eddie Shore hit him from behind, and Ace hit his head on the ice so hard that even a priest was called to him – it was believed that he would die. Bailey, fortunately, lived to be more than sixty years old, but his hockey career was over and the All-Star Game fees became his severance pay.

The match was played at Maple Leafs Garden, and ahead of it, Bailey’s number 6 was retired for the first time in NHL history. His native Leafs in this match fought against the team of stars of all other teams in the league and won.

Ace hoped that such events would be held every year, and even gave a special prize to NHL President Frank Calder – to be awarded to the winner. But over the next thirteen years, he was held only twice: on November 3, 1937, to help the family of Howie Morenz, who died due to an injury received on the ice; and October 29, 1939, in memory of former Canadiens player Babe Siebert.

And these matches have become permanent and regular only since 1947.

Tough guy, a priest and the USSR national team played in the All-Star Games

During this time, the rules have changed many times. For example, for the first twenty years, the Stanley Cup winner played against the all-star team of the other five teams in the league: “star team” against “star team”, so to speak. This led to situations that are anecdotal from a modern point of view. For example, in 2016, it was said a lot that tough guy John Scott became the worst participant in the cost center in history. But what about Stan Smrke?

He was the first Yugoslav player in the NHL and was named to the Montreal Canadiens just in time to play in the 1957 All-Star Game. Smrke scored the only goal of his career in the NHL – in 9 games of the regular championship, he scored only 0 + 3.

Or Les Costello? His stats are slightly better: 15 games, 5 points for the Toronto Maple Leafs, plus a 1948-49 All-Star Game.

True, it was his presence that can be considered quite deserved: even though he was not an NHL star, he became a hockey star. In 1950, Costello quit professional sports and entered the seminary. In 1963, he formed a priests’ hockey team called the Flying Fathers and went on tour with them to raise money for charity. He played with the Flying Fathers for 39 years and even died, one might say, on the ice: during the game, a puck hit him in the head. He fell into a coma the next day and passed away the same week at the age of 74. Death is always tragic, including at his age, but if he could choose, he would probably prefer just such an outcome.

Like any big event, the All-Star Game has been criticized almost from its inception. “No one beats a dead dog”, and when an event occurs that affects tens of thousands of people, everything can never go smoothly, and something will not work out, someone will be dissatisfied with something. Moreover, the format of this spectacle was out of the routine and conducive to experimentation.

For example, to hold it in the form of “Canada against the United States”: that is, two Canadian clubs, “Montreal” and “Toronto”, against four American ones. It was this innovation that caused particular irritation: it is unfair that the US team is called the one where three-quarters of the players are Canadians.

Beginning in 1969, the All-Star game took on a more familiar character – the Western Conference against the Eastern. Although in 1979 and 1987 there were exceptions, which we consider glorious pages of our hockey: the USSR national team won both the Challenge Cup and the Rendezvous-87 against the NHL stars.