I have been incredibly lucky to attended 11 NHL All-Star Games - one of them for my radio station in Buffalo (1978), and I broadcast another (while working for the host, Los Angeles, in 1981). The game in Nashville will mark my 12th game, second as an on-air broadcaster. The memories I have taken from these spectacles are many.
The 1978 game, played at the “Aud” in Buffalo, was my first. I am still amazed I was there and working it as a reporter. Take a look at the lineups that night, right here.
It was as if I was reporting on a traveling Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit. How about a defense corps with Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Borje Salming, Brad Park and Serge Savard? Do you think you could put together a power play with them and Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne, Guy LaFleur, Steve Shutt, Bill Barber and Bryan Trottier? Of course, if the power play didn’t work, you could count on Ken Dryden and “Battling” Billy Smith to stop the puck in your end of the ice!
All of that talent was deployed by the top coaches of the era: Montreal’s Scotty Bowman and Philadelphia’s Fred Shero.
In the summer of 1978, I was lucky enough to move from working for a radio station where covering hockey was part of the job, to working for a team. The Los Angeles Kings came calling that August, and three years later, they hosted the 33rd All-Star Game at the “Fabulous Forum” in Inglewood.
I was truly fortunate to learn how to do the job at an NHL level from another product of college hockey: Bob Miller. Miller had been Voice of the Wisconsin Badgers, and he moved to the Kings in 1973, just after calling the Badgers NCAA championship. I guess we can say he has made it now. He is still Voice of the Kings and was honored with the Foster Hewitt Award by the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000. Miller and I were the radio broadcast team for the 1981 game.
There was a great deal of excitement when it was announced the Kings would be the hosts. It was the biggest thing that had happened to the franchise, which had begun play in 1967.
At that point in time, I was also doing some writing for the Kings’ edition of Goal Magazine. The coaches for the game were set – Scotty Bowman, then with Buffalo, and Pat Quinn of Philadelphia. The Kings had a trip into Buffalo just before the New Year’s holiday, so I had my first chance to talk with Scotty Bowman for the All-Star Program:
After that, it seemed as if Feb. 10th came around quickly. It was game time! The 1981 All-Star rosters may be seen here.
Notice this lineup included No. 25 from the Vancouver Canucks, defenseman Kevin McCarthy! It was a very special night for the host team and Kings fans.
This was an era of the lower-scoring NHL All Star games, which really didn’t change until the 1990s, when the scores began hitting double digits. In the 1978 game in Buffalo, the final was Prince of Wales 3, Clarence Campbells 2, in overtime.
The 1981 game will always hold a special place in my heart because we hosted it in Los Angeles, which until that time seemed like a “hockey stepchild.” Maybe it still was until Wayne Gretzky was traded there in August of 1988, but for those days surrounding the game, it seemed like hockey had overtaken Southern California. No one appeared to be unhappy about making the trip, I can tell you that!
As the color commentator at the game, I was given a great assignment – head down the back stairs of the Forum to the dressing room area to interview the All-Stars during the intermissions. That included two players who were already well on their way to the Hall of Fame:
When the game ended, the Campbell Conference had defeated the Wales Conference, 4-1. Goaltenders who have played in this game over the past 25 years or so would probably shake their heads to know that it was one of their brethren – Mike Liut of the St. Louis Blues – who was named the game’s MVP:
After working two All-Star Games in four years, it would be 1996 until I attended my next – at what is now the TD Garden in Boston. Never to be forgotten there – the performance of local favorite Ray Bourque in a 5-4 win for the East over the West – and the debut of the “FoxTrax Puck.” Fox had recently taken over the national broadcast rights for the NHL, and was attempting to come up with an answer for the casual fan who would complain about how difficult it could be to follow the puck on their television screens. It solved that, but upset the purists, so the glowing puck and its comet tail soon disappeared.
Then, it was four-straight All-Star Games for me with two different formats: In Denver and Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002, it was North America vs. the World, and the two sides split those games. One great aside tor the second game in Los Angeles, and first at Staples Center – the first full reunion of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” team.
The 2003 game in Sunrise, Florida, featured the first appearance of the shootout as the West beat the East, 6-5. In St. Paul, Minnesota, the following year, it was all part of a great Winter Festival with the East over the West, 6-4.
My next game was in Dallas in 2007, the West prevailed 12-9. The 2011 game in Raleigh, North Carolina, brought about the first of the “Fantasy Drafts,” which also seemed to usher in the super high scoring games. Nick Lidstrom’s team won, 11-10 over Eric Staal’s. In Ottawa in 2012, ex-Senator Zdeno Chara’s team beat the local captain, Daniel Alfredsson, 12-9. Last year in Columbus, they wore out the Blue Jackets’ cannon as Team Toews prevailed 17-12 over Columbus Captain Nick Foligno.
What will you remember from this year’s game, the 2016 edition in Music City? While it’s a fairly young group, there will be some Hall of Famers to remember, first among them Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, along with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who already is far and away the goal scoring leader of the NHL Draft class of 2004, with over 500. If you get to any of the activities, just absorb as much as you can. Hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, please do tune in!