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Montreal hosts 2009 NHL All-Star Game

by John McGourty
The National Hockey League will take a five-day break, Jan. 21-27, 2009 for a very good reason – to help the Montreal Canadiens celebrate their 100th anniversary by hosting the Jan. 25 NHL All-Star Game.

The game will commemorate both the 100th anniversary of the Montreal franchise and the 100th anniversary of the first North American hockey all-star game, a charity benefit for the family of drowning victim Hod Stuart, who was honored in 1945 as one of the first members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Montreal has been the most frequent site for the NHL All-Star Game, hosting the event 13 times, but not since 1993. This could be a good omen for the reigning Eastern Conference champions. The Canadiens went on to win the 1993 Stanley Cup.

This will be the first NHL All-Star Game played in Canada since the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted in 2000. It will also be the first NHL All-Star Game held at the Bell Centre, the home of the Canadiens since March 16, 1996.

Many NHL All-Star Game records have been set in games in Montreal. Mike Gartner, whose number will be retired Dec. 28 by the Washington Capitals, tied a still-standing record with four goals in 1993. Mario Lemieux had a hat trick in that game. Gartner scored twice, and Peter Bondra once to set a record (since eclipsed) of 1:08 for the fastest three goals in an All-Star Game.

The 22 goals scored by the Wales and Campbell Conferences in 1993 set a since-eclipsed record while the Wales Conference's 16 goals remains the record. The 90 shots the teams took set a record eclipsed the following year. The Wales Conference's 49 shots also set a record eclipsed the next year.

The Forum was the site of the only NHL All-Star Game shutout in 1967, when the Canadiens downed the All-Stars, 3-0. Only one All-Star Game has seen fewer than the 53 shots the Canadiens and All-Stars took in 1960.

Canadiens fans are hoping there will be more of their hometown heroes in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game. Only future Hockey Hall of Famer Alex Kovalev represented the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference champions in Atlanta in 2008.

Kovalev played every game and led the Canadiens with 35 goals, 49 assists, 84 points and a plus-18 rating. That earned him a berth on the NHL Second All-Star Team. Kovalev also played in the 2001 and 2003 NHL All-Star Games.

The NHL was created in 1917 and the first NHL All-Star Game in 1933 was a benefit for injured Ace Bailey, held at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Montreal Forum was the site of the second NHL All-Star Game, Nov. 3, 1937, a benefit for the family of Canadiens superstar Howie Morenz, who died in March 1937 of complications of a broken leg suffered in an NHL game, five years before the introduction of penicillin that would have saved him.

The third NHL All-Star was also a charity benefit, on Oct. 29, 1939 at the Forum, to benefit the family of Babe Siebert, who like Stuart drowned during the offseason.

The NHL made the All-Star Game an annual event in 1947, pitting the Stanley Cup champion against star players from other teams in a preseason game. Varied formats have been used in succeeding seasons, such as pitting the First and Second All-Star teams, augmented by stars from other teams.

“To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high."
-- In Flanders Fields, Major John McCrae, M.D. Canadian Expeditionary Forces, World War I

The Canadiens hosted the All-Star Game for five straight seasons, 1957-61, as a result of winning the prior year's Stanley Cup.

The All-Star Game was moved to midseason in 1967-68, the year the NHL expanded to 12 teams. International matches pitting NHL All-Stars against stars from the Soviet Union were held in 1979 and 1987. For five years, starting in 1998, the game matched North American NHL stars against NHL players from European countries.

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there was no 2006 All-Star Game because of the NHL participation in the Winter Olympics and there will be no All-Star Game in 2010, when the Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver.

Hod Stuart and his brother, Bruce, also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, played for the Montreal Wanderers, who played in the Federal League and then the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association. The league dissolved in 1909 and Ambrose O'Brien purchased the Montreal franchise and helped create the National Hockey Association, a direct predecessor of the NHL through the 1916 season. The Canadiens were founding members of the NHL and are its oldest continually operating franchise.

The Stuarts led the Wanderers to an undefeated season and the Stanley Cup in 1907, one of three Stanley Cups won while competing in the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association. The Stanley Cup was a challenge cup from the time Lord Stanley donated it in 1893 until 1926, when it became the NHL's championship trophy. While the Wanderers were a predecessor to the current franchise, the Canadiens do not count Stanley Cups won in amateur play.

The Canadiens have an league-high 23 Stanley Cups as members of the NHL, including 1924 when the Stanley Cup was decided by matching the winners of the NHL and the champion of the old Western Hockey League, the Calgary Tigers. During the 1910-16 National Hockey Association era, the franchise won the Stanley Cup as the Montreal Wanderers in 1910 and as the Canadiens in 1916.

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