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Visit by NHL legends thrills current All-Stars

by Mike G. Morreale
MONTREAL -- Frank Mahovlich, the NHL Hall of Famer who played for the Maple Leafs, Red Wings and Canadiens, curiously tilted his head and pointed to the multitude of sticks on the rack that were assigned to Alex Ovechkin within the Eastern Conference dressing room.

"That's got to be illegal; look at that curve," said Mahovlich, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981. "Gee, the last time I saw a curve like that, Stan Mikita was skating on the ice."

Yes. Even a legend will pay strict attention to today's hockey heroes and they have no problem speaking their mind. Such was the case Saturday, when the NHL All-Stars were given a grand treat just prior to their practice session at Bell Centre when Mahovlich, Guy Lafleur, Johnny Bower and Gordie Howe each took a turn to introduce themselves and, perhaps, offer a few tips.

It was an experience none of them will ever forget, even "Ovie."

"Hey, my stick is legal, you can measure it," Ovechkin told when informed what Mahovlich had said. "I guess that's why they are legends; they can pick up on anything. It's unbelievable though. These guys were so good and everyone wants to talk with them and they really have so much knowledge of game."

The legends entered the Western Conference room first. Bower, nicknamed "The China Wall" as the goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs in his heyday, stopped to speak with Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell for a short time, while Howe, hockey's living legend and the reigning "Mr. Hockey", introduced himself to Calgary's Jarome Iginla.

At one point during his conversation with Iginla, the Flames captain asked Howe how many All-Star Games he had appeared in over his splendid career. Howe turned to a friend, Felix Gatt, and asked, "Hey, how many All-Star Games did I participate?"

"That would be 23 Gordo," Gatt responded. "That would be 23 Jarome," Howe said.

Bower was certainly impressed with today's players.

"I have a lot of respect for these guys today," Bower said. "Heck, when I played, we would average about 25-30 shots a game. Today, these guys are seeing anywhere from 35-40 pucks, so it's changed. I've been following that rookie in Columbus (Steve Mason). It's just too bad he couldn't make it here."

Howe was not only chatting and joking with the players, but also introduced himself to numerous children in and around the dressing rooms, including 8-year-old Toronto native Rohan Kawale, who had "Mr. Hockey" sign a Red Wings cap.

"Gee, we never had this type of scene when I was in a locker room during an All-Star Game, but I brought my family because, well, what were they going to say?" Howe said.

Lafleur, who won five Stanley Cups over a 17-season career, was ecstatic that the All-Star Game was returning to Montreal.

"I think it's a great celebration for Montreal and for its fans," Lafleur said. "I do feel it's important that this generation of players can talk with the older generation because we both went through the same things and it's just nice to meet with everyone."

Does Lafleur feel the dressing rooms are different now than when he played?

"You better believe it," Lafleur said. "In our day, we weren't allowed to bring family and didn't sign any jerseys prior to getting on the ice for practice. But it's a new generation and more commercialized. That's better for the fans and it's important to the players as well."

After shaking hands and sharing a few laughs with Western Conference coaches Todd McLellan and Mike Babcock, the quartet of legends entered the Eastern Conference dressing room to the delight of the players there. Howe actually tried on a glove to be worn by Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk in Sunday's 57th All-Star Game.

"He put them on his hands and it's amazing; his hands are so big," Kovalchuk said. "He looked at me and said my gloves were too small for his hand. This was such a great experience, to be among the greatest players of all time."

Eastern Conference defenseman Mike Komisarek of the Canadiens was also in awe.

"Mr. Howe was just telling me to stay healthy and to have a great season," Komisarek said. "To have the legends doing this is something I'll never forget. They've been through the wars and know what it takes and to just listen to them and take in that knowledge is something I'll never forget."

Mahovlich and Bower actually sandwiched lucky Boston goalie Tim Thomas on the bench in front of his stall.

"I remember when I was young, it was great to see the older players come around the rink," Mahovlich said. "It's a tradition and I feel a responsibility that players need to know about. I'm amazed at the size of these players today. I remember when I played, I was about 6-foot, 210 pounds and now these players are 6-3, 180 pounds. They are all fine and well-tuned. I think it's a great tradition being here in Montreal because so many All-Star Game have taken place here. I can remember in '68, Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman were coaches and myself, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull and Gordie were playing. Those were very fond memories and these young guys will remember this experience."

Bower is also pleased that the NHLPA has opted to double the supplemental income for the alumni association to $2 million. Later in the afternoon, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the League would also up its contribution to $2 million.

"I think it's a great thing with the supplement," Bower said. "We were getting so much and now they're doubling it for us and that's really nice and something we never expected. Hey, it's a nice gift for your wife.

"It just goes to show you how much of a fraternity the hockey people are. We love this sport, but hockey doesn't last forever because there's always a chance of breaking an arm or a leg, so it's nice to have some type of reserve down the line. This is very nice."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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