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All-Star Game has rich history in Montreal

Los Angeles hosting event for third time, but Canadiens leads way with 12 games held at Forum, Bell Centre

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL - The Los Angeles Kings will roll out a sparkly Tinseltown carpet for the NHL's elite this week as part of the League's Centennial Celebration, the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game and its companion events coming to and around Staples Center Thursday through Sunday.

It will be the third time the City of Angels has hosted the All-Star Game, the first at the late Jack Kent Cooke's Fabulous Forum in 1981, and most recently at Staples Center in 2002.

Los Angeles moves into fifth place on the list of cities to stage the game, the ranking tilted in that early years saw the NHL's defending Stanley Cup champion automatically named the host city.

The Montreal Canadiens sit atop the list, having been home to the game 12 times, half of those in an eight-year span from 1953-60, including five in a row to coincide with their unprecedented title run from 1956-60.

Next come the Toronto Maple Leafs with eight, the Detroit Red Wings (five), the Chicago Blackhawks (four) and the Kings with three. The New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Philadelphia Flyers each have hosted the event twice. 

You could make an argument that the Canadiens have, in fact, staged 16 All-Star Games. Montreal held four benefit games from 1908-39 -- long before the NHL began officially organizing the match in 1947 -- with the best players on five teams forming a roster to challenge the Stanley Cup champion to begin the new Original Six season.

The first Montreal-staged charity game was held to benefit the family of Montreal Wanderers' Hod Stuart, a star in the Eastern Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Stuart drowned in 1907, 10 years before the founding of the NHL.

Two were organized to help the families of two lost Canadiens -- Howie Morenz to a coronary embolism in 1937 and Albert (Babe) Siebert who drowned in 1939.

Another was staged in 1936 for Nels Crutchfield, a former captain of the university McGill Redmen whose career was cut short in 1936 by a fractured skull sustained in a car accident after one season with the Canadiens.

The game in Los Angeles on Sunday likely won't have the edge of the first official game held in Toronto on Oct. 13, 1947, a charity match between the Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs and a team of all-stars coached by the Canadiens' Dick Irvin.

Although more than $25,000 was raised for the newly-formed NHL pension fund and other proceeds were donated to Maple Leaf-designated charities, it was hardly a love-in. The Canadiens' Ken Reardon responded to a cross-check from Toronto's Bob Goldham by clubbing the Maple Leafs defenseman and cutting him open. Reardon already had earned a minor and fighting major in the first period for battling Vic Lynn, and at the final whistle, swung sticks with Bill Eznicki and Gus Mortson.

Ornery Canadiens star Maurice "Rocket" Richard refused to speak with teammate Ted Lindsay of Detroit, his feud with the rugged Red Wings star too steeped in ill will and bad blood.

"I didn't talk to (Lindsay)," Richard said after the game, quoted in Andrew Podnieks's book, "The NHL All-Star Game: 50 Years of the Great Tradition."

"We didn't even say hello. He tried talking to me, but I just ignored him. I don't like him, not even for an All-Star Game."

Montreal first staged the game, the seventh in NHL history, following their seventh Stanley Cup win the previous April.

Played Oct. 3, 1953, the game was virtually lost in the glare of that afternoon's huge news -- Jean Béliveau signed his first contract, finally, with the Canadiens.

A crowd of 14,153 saw their legend-to-be assist on Richard's third-period goal -- the Canadiens' only score in a 3-1 loss, stymied by Detroit goalie Terry Sawchuk's 30 saves.

Video: Terry Sawchuk was four-time Vezina-winning goalie

But it wasn't a total loss for the home team, as each member was given leather shaving kits and gold stick-pins by manager Frank Selke to celebrate their League title and gifted with silver rose bowls from the NHL.

Players from both teams were showered with shoes, lighters, blazers, sweater coats, hats and fishing rods.

Perhaps the two most memorable of Montreal's 12 games were for, of all things, goaltending, in 1965 and 1967.

In the first, Canadiens coach Toe Blake rotated Gump Worsley and Charlie Hodge a dozen times, roughly every five minutes, in a 5-2 loss to the all-stars.

Two years later, Hodge and Gary Bauman were flawless in their respective 40 and 20 minutes of work, Hodge making 25 saves and Bauman 10 for what was the first shutout in All-Star Game history.

It was a sleep-inducing affair, apart from Canadiens policeman John Ferguson's two goals and his second-period one-punch knockdown of Detroit's Norm Ullman.

"(Ullman) slashed me behind the goal then broke my stick," Ferguson protested, having earned a minor penalty for his well-aimed duke. "Then I hit him with a good shoulder check and he cross-checked me under the chin. So I just zinged him one, right on the nose."

The legendary Rocket was back on Montreal Forum ice for the 1993 game. With Beliveau and Guy Lafleur, Richard carried the Stanley Cup onto the rink and fumbled it like a giant sterling football, denting the trophy.

It's safe to assume hockey's holy grail won't meet a similar fate this weekend, the Cup having been carried around Staples Center ice -- without casualty -- following the Kings' Stanley Cup triumphs in 2012 and 2014.

Not far away, surely, will be beloved Kings legend Wayne Gretzky, whose 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) ranks him No. 1 all-time in the All-Star Game.

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