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50 Forgotten Stories: 'It's a Farce!'

All-Star voting controversies are hardly a modern issue; just ask Marcel Dionne and the 1979 LA Kings

by Sheng Peng @Sheng_Peng / LAKings.com

Fury over fan voting. The "threat" of an unconventional All-Star. A never-before-seen playing format.

It's not 2016 and John Scott and the 3-on-3 All-Star Game - no, it's 1979 and Joe Lindgere and the NHL All-Stars vs. the Soviet Union in the Challenge Cup.

That year, for the first time, the NHL asked the fans to vote on the All-Star starting line-up. In previous seasons, coaches or the Professional Hockey Writers Association picked the teams.

"It's a joke," snapped Butch Goring.

An anonymous teammate concurred, "It's a farce. Only a few people voted in LA."

If you think "East Coast bias" is a thing now, remember a time before the internet, before even ESPN, when national exposure was limited to about a game or two a week, games which rarely showcased the Kings.

Consequently, Marcel Dionne, a consensus top-three center, trailing just Mike Bossy in goals scored when polling closed - couldn't even crack the fans' top-five at his position.

Dionne wasn't helped by Los Angeles owner Jack Kent Cooke's initial refusal to allow All-Star ballot boxes to be placed at the Forum - "on the grounds of commercialism, noting that the voting was being underwritten by the Wilkinson Sword Co."

Both Cooke and Toronto's Harold Ballard "said they didn't want to annoy sponsors who were already advertising in their buildings."

That is, until they saw the early voting returns for their stars.

LA broadcasters Bob Miller and Pete Weber were actually "forbidden" to promote the ballot on the air. (Merry, Don. "In This Election, NHL Is the Loser." Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1979.)

In Chicago, there was no such problem rocking the vote - for example, the Phil Russell Fan Club filled out 30,000 ballots for the solid, two-way blueliner, vaulting him to third in the final tally behind future Hall of Famers Larry Robinson and Denis Potvin.

In St. Louis, Blues fan Joe Lindgere "waged a one-man, write-in campaign" for Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter, and Wayne Babych -- with a rubber stamp. But the NHL tossed his votes, noting baseball had banned stamped ballots - though the league had never proclaimed such ballots to be illegal in the beginning.

"I've got a lawyer who wants some publicity, maybe he can get an injunction to stop the games against the Russians," threatened Lindgere. "And next year I'm going to get 25 buddies of mine and we'll mark 100,000 ballots - not stamp them - and we'll pick some obscure player in the Blues' minor leagues.

"Then we'll see what the NHL will do. We'll follow their rules and beat them at their own game." (Mueller, Gary. "Did Fans Pick the Best in NHL All-Star Voting?" St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 25, 1979.)

The three-game Challenge Cup series commenced without a hitch, punctuated by a 6-0 Soviet stunner in the decisive match. The NHL didn't bring back fan All-Star voting until 1986.
 

Desjardins Denied

Of course, it's not just the fans who snub deserving All-Stars.

In 1970, sophomore goaltender Gerry Desjardins, who had "played in all but one game with the Kings, drawing raves everywhere for his valiant stands behind a ragged defense" was passed over for Glenn Hall. The 38-year-old Blue had appeared in just four games that year.

"[Hall] was great last season, sure," complained a Kings spokesman, "but this is supposed to be for what they've done this season."

"It's a farce!" shouted Los Angeles general manager Larry Regan. (Roberts, Rich. "Desjardins Slighted on All-Stars." Independent, January 14, 1970.)

The PHWA had actually voted Desjardins behind the Blues' Jacques Plante and the Flyers' Bernie Parent for the West Division All-Stars. But it would be up to the team's coach to select his third netminder.

That coach? None other than long-time Kings nemesis Scotty Bowman, in his first head coaching assignment with the Blues, who brought two of his own goalies to, where else? The 1970 All-Star Game … in St. Louis.

Desjardins would finally make an All-Star team in 1977 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

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Sheng Peng is a freelance hockey writer based out of Los Angeles, California. He covers the LA Kings and Ontario Reign for HockeyBuzz. His work has also appeared on VICE Sports, The Hockey News, and SB Nation's Jewels from the Crown.

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