Unforgettable NHL All-Star Game Moments
It was a veritable Mount Rushmore of the National Hockey League. Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux seated side-by-side at the podium. They were in LA to help promote the 2017 NHL All-Star Game and the unveiling of The NHL 100, which, in celebration of the league’s centennial, singled out the 100 greatest players of all time.
However, when put on the spot to name who amongst the trio was the very best, all three legends — a whopping 37 All-Star Game nods between them — were quick to deflect elsewhere, to Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe.
“We talk about this all the time,” said Gretzky. “That’s what makes sports great, and that’s what makes hockey wonderful. I think we’re pretty much in agreement that Gordie was pretty special. These two guys here were pretty special, also, but we all have so much respect for what Gordie did.”
“Gordie is, in my mind, the best that ever played the game,” Orr concurred. “I’m not sure if we’ll ever see another one like him.”
“He could play any way that you wanted out there, a great goal scorer, tough, always taking care of business,” added Lemieux. “He was truly a great ambassador for the game.”
It was a testament to Howe that, nearly four decades after playing his last game at the age of 52, he was still regarded with such reverence, that a high caliber gathering such as this would continue to see him as the greatest to ever take the ice. Howe, who passed away a year earlier at the age of 88, reauthored the record books during a remarkable, record-setting 26-year NHL career, most of which was spent with Detroit’s winged wheel affixed to his sweater. Among the many marks that stand to this day: most regular-season games (1,767), most consecutive 20-goal seasons (22), most times leading the Stanley Cup Playoffs in scoring (six). But perhaps the most jarring stat is his NHL-best 23 All-Star Game appearances. Twenty-three. Considering that the average NHL career is around five years, that’s a hefty total.
Fittingly, Howe, the sport’s ultimate all-star, is included in our compilation of the NHL All-Star Game’s greatest moments. (To be honest, he was hard to avoid.) Read on and see who else joined Mr. Hockey and played their way to all-star immortality.
1 | FEB. 9, 1988: SUPER MARIO’S SUPERHUMAN NIGHT
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline said it all: LEMIEUX STEALS THE SHOW. Mario Lemieux was well on his way to his first Hart Memorial Trophy and Art Ross Trophy nods when he dazzled fans with the most productive outing in NHL All-Star Game history. In just his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Penguins (who took him with the franchise-altering top overall pick in the 1984 NHL Draft), the 21-year-old center notched a record six points at the St. Louis Arena, including the game-winning goal 1:08 into overtime, giving the Wales Conference a dramatic 6-5 triumph. Wrote Tom McMillan in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the no-doubt game MVP “took the quaint little event known as the NHL All-Star Game and his made it his personal showcase.”
2 | JAN. 18, 1997: MR. NOLAN MAKES HIS POINT
Owen Nolan’s back-to-back second-period goals — scored a record eight second apart — were enough to bring his hometown fans to their feet at the 1997 NHL All-Star Game. But it was his called shot, reminiscent of Babe Ruth’s iconic home run in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, that really shook the San Jose Arena. The beloved Shark sealed a hat trick in the third period when, off a breakaway, he pointed at the top left corner and promptly beat goalie Dominik Hasek to that very locale. “Here come the chapeaus!” shouted play-by-play man Gary Thorne. Nolan reflected on the occasion years later, saying, “I still, to this day, get people saying it was one of their favorite moments in hockey. I’d never been in an earthquake to that point, but I honestly thought I was in one and the roof was going to come down.”
3 | FEB. 8, 1983: THE GREAT ONE’S HISTORIC LATE SURGE
Wayne Gretzky had been held scoreless through two periods of play — a feat unto itself. The Great One, after all, was in the midst of an unprecedented run that would see the longtime Edmonton Oiler lead the league in points seven years running (1980-87). Goalie Pelle Lindbergh and defensemen Rod Langway, Denis Potvin and Ray Bourque were feeling stingy at the Nassau Coliseum, denying the 22-year-old again and again. However, the sleeping giant indeed awakened in the third period. Until that night, no skater had ever scored four goals in a single NHL All-Star Game, let alone four in the same stanza. Gretzky accomplished both in the telltale third period, winning game MVP accolades and a $14,000 sports car in a convincing 9-3 Campbell Conference victory. As one newspaper informed us the following morning: GRETZKY GOES BERSERK.
4 | FEB. 5, 1980: PASSING OF THE TORCH
It was only fitting that, as Gordie Howe was making his record 23rd and final All-Star Game appearance, a skinny kid from southwestern Ontario was making his first. Mr. Hockey, meet The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Two of the sport’s very best sharing the ice in a Campbell vs. Wales showdown for the ages. But make no mistake — this was Howe’s night. It was here in Detroit, after all, that the Hockey Hall of Famer made his debut all the way back in 1946, that he spent 25 years. Though he was now a member of the conference rival Hartford Whalers, all 21,002 attendees in Joe Louis Arena rose to their feet to show their appreciation for all the now-gray-haired 51-year-old had done for the Motor City. It was an emotional moment for all on hand. As Howe took the ice, PA announcer John Bell bellowed, “Representing all of hockey with great distinction for five decades, number 9…” He didn’t have to include his name. The applause lasted four minutes, followed by chants of GORDIE! GORDIE! GORDIE! “I had the same feelings for the fans as they had towards me,” said Howe afterward. He would notch an assist on Real Coutier’s third period goal, which sealed a 6-3 win for the Wales Conference.
5 | FEB. 4, 2001: THE GOALS CAME IN BUNCHES
If you think hockey is a low-scoring affair, you weren’t at Denver’s Pepsi Center on Feb. 4, 2001, when the NHL All-Star Game featured a record-setting 26 goals. (Eighteen different players found the back of the net at least once.) When the dust settled, it was Bill Guerin who walked off with MVP honors. The Boston right winger registered a hat trick and added two assists in leading team North America to victory over team World, 14-12. “That is not going to happen during the regular season,” said Guerin’s All-Star teammate, Mario Lemieux, who was making his return to the league after three-and-a-half years of retirement. “You have 42 of the best hockey players in the world here, and they are all very talented with the puck. They can all make great plays, and that is why I feel sorry for the goalies in the All-Star Games.”