The annual NHL All-Star Game is a favorite event for many fans. The festivities span an entire weekend and include the Skills Competition, and in years past, a young stars game. The format has changed over the years – it began as a matchup between the reigning Stanley Cup champions and all-stars from the other teams, turned into a matchup between conferences, went through a stage when it was North America against the world, and now has the flavor of a pickup game where team captains choose their players – but it has remained immensely popular over the decades.
The All-Star game became an officially sanctioned annual NHL event in 1947, but that was not the first time NHL players took part in an All-Star game. To find the first such event, we must jump into our time machines and travel back to 1934. Before we do that, however, let us see why the game was played.
The date is December 12, 1933. The Toronto Maple Leafs are riding high in the world of ice hockey. They are on their way to posting the best regular season record in the league. Last season, they advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, and the season before that, they won the Stanley Cup. The man that scored the Cup clinching goal for the Leafs was Irvine “Ace” Bailey. At the beginning of the game between the Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins, no one could have known what fate held for Ace Bailey.
During the game that night, Boston’s Eddie Shore was violently checked by Toronto’s King Clancy as he skated into the Toronto zone, pushing Shore into a rage. Intent on getting revenge, Shore spun around to see what he believed to be Clancy, charged at him from behind and tripped him. Shore had not found his intended target, however. Rather, it was Ace Bailey whose head slammed into the ice, fracturing his skull. Bailey was knocked unconscious and began bleeding from his head. In retaliation, Bailey’s teammate Red Horner knocked Shore out with a punch to the head.
When he regained consciousness and learned of Bailey’s condition, Shore went to the locker room where Bailey was to apologize. By now, Ace had also come to, and despite believing that he was going to die, upon receiving Shore’s apology gave a remarkable display of grace and forgiveness in his response: “It’s all part of the game.” Bailey then lost consciousness once again.
By the next morning, that Bailey would die seemed all but certain because of cerebral hemorrhaging. Shore, meanwhile, was interviewed by homicide detectives who announced that should Bailey die, Shore would be charged with manslaughter. Shore was indefinitely suspended by league president Frank Calder (he ended up missing 16 games). Shore was devastated by the guilt – enough so that he took a three week convalescence to Bermuda – and was not allowed to visit Bailey in the hospital. Boston manager Art Ross was able to do so, however, and when he did, Bailey once again said that Shore had not intentionally injured him.
Miraculously, Bailey survived, and eventually recovered to live a normal life, but his hockey career was over. On January 24, 1934, the NHL Board of Directors decided to schedule a game between Bailey’s Maple Leafs and a team of All-Stars from the other teams in the league to raise money to benefit Ace and his family. The game was scheduled for Valentine’s Day, and would be played in Toronto’s Maple Leafs Gardens. Two players were selected from each of the other teams in the league, and Lester Patrick, the coach of the defending Stanley Cup champion Rangers was selected as the coach.
During the festivities, the Maple Leafs retired Bailey’s number six jersey, making it the first jersey to be retired by an NHL team. Bailey presented a trophy to Calder which he hoped would be awarded at an annual All-Star game held to benefit the families of injured players. But, the most dramatic moment of the night took place while Bailey, Patrick, and Calder presented jerseys to the All-Stars. Black Hawks goalie Charlie Gardiner (who died, sadly, only four months later) was first, and after him came Eddie Shore.
The crowd of over 14,000 fans became totally silent as Shore skated toward Bailey. The mood of the building changed entirely when Bailey extended his hand to Shore. As the two men shook hands, the crowd roared its approval.
During the game, Shore, who was extremely nervous about how he would be received was cheered by the crowd. At the end of the game, the scoreboard showed a 7-3 win for the Maple Leafs. The event raised $20,909, and the Bruins organization added another $6,000. Bailey’s desire for an annual benefit game did not come to fruition, but similar events were held in 1937 and 1939 to benefit the families of Howie Morenz and Babe Siebert.
Even if the tradition was not immediately established, that night with the stars set a precedent, and achieved a lot of good for the Bailey family. The first NHL All-Star Game is an excellent demonstration of the sportsmanship that those of us who call ourselves hockey fans so greatly value in the athletes that we cheer for.