The game has changed, but the experience is still the same
By Jason Lockhart
It's been almost three years since the NHL last held its mid-season All-Star Game designed to showcase the league's best talent. Due to a cancelled season and the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, the NHL last played an All-Star game on February 7, 2004, a 6-4 win by the East Squad.
It's been even longer -- 34 years -- since Ed Westfall became the first player to represent the Islanders at an NHL All-Star game. Since then, 24 different Islanders have participated in the NHL All-Star, with Jason Blake soon to be the 25th. He will play in 55th NHL All-Star Game, held in Dallas on Wednesday.
Much has changed, though, since the Islanders' first All-Star Game back in 1973. Bryan Trottier, who represented the Islanders at seven NHL All-Star Games, remembers when the All-Star Game was just about the game. Now he says, "There's so much more at today's All-Star game. It used to be the dinner banquet the night before, the team practice and then the game. Now, you see so much more interaction with the fans and, the NHL alumni returning for the Heroes of Hockey game. There's also the YoungStars Game and the skills competition. It's more of an event than it was when I played."
The NHL Skills Competition and Heroes of Hockey game were introduced in 1990 at the 41st NHL All-Star Game, while the YoungStars Game, which pits some of the NHL's youngest talent against each other, was first played in 2003. Two Islanders have played in the YoungStars Game, including current Islander, Trent Hunter, who skated in the 2004 game, held in Minnesota. Alexei Yashin represented the Islanders at the All-Star Game in 2002.
In addition to the format change, the game has also become more offensive. Prior to 1990, no team had scored more than nine goals in a game. Starting in 1990, teams scored at least ten goals seven times, including in 2001 when both the North American and World squads reached double-digits. But it was during the earlier years, the Islanders dominated representation at the All-Star Game.
Between 1974 and 1988, the Islanders averaged almost three All-Star participants per season. Denis Potvin made the most appearances, with nine, followed closely by Trottier and Mike Bossy, who each made seven trips. The Islanders were honored by hosting the NHL All-Star game in 1983.
"It was exciting to play on Long Island in front of the home crowd," said Trottier. "That year we had four Islanders in the game: Bossy, Denis, Dave Langevin and myself. It was a thrill to be at home and sharing that whole experience with my teammates. When you're with teammates it adds to it. I was fortunate enough to go to the All-Star games with a number of my teammates each year, so I got to experience it with all of them. I even played on a line with Bossy for a number of them, including when he won the All-Star MVP Award in 1982. It was an experience we were able to enjoy together."
Despite the changes in format and the increased scale of the event, Trottier argues, "It's all about the experience and having a mutual respect for all of the players there. It's going to be exciting for Jason to be in his first All-Star game. I remember mine, when I was only 19. Al Arbour came up and told me. It was a really exciting day for me. I called everyone in my family and framed the letter the NHL sent to me. Jason is a little older than I was, but he still will enjoy it."