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From the Archives: The First NHL All-Star Game

This week on From the Archives, Stan Fischler looks back at the first NHL all-star game and what it meant being able to watch the league's top stars play together for the first time.

By the Fall of 1947, I had reached Hockey Heaven.

Not only had The Hockey News been born but I was one of the first subscribers to Ken McKenzie's publication. Naturally, I devoured every issue, cover to cover.

On top of that bit of joy, was the indisputable fact that my beloved Maple Leafs were defending Stanley Cup champions. Huge underdogs, Toronto had knocked off Montreal in April 1947 – six games to the Silver.

What else could I possibly have wished for?

Well, just one more thing: I wanted the National Hockey League to follow baseball's tradition and stage an official all-star game.

Yeah, I knew that there were icy facsimiles in the past, but they were more like impromptu benefit contests. One was for Ace Bailey, a solid Leaf forward whose NHL career prematurely ended following a severe injury.

A second fund-raiser – equally publicized – was the tribute to Canadiens Hall of Famer Howie Morenz. It was arranged after "The Stratford Streak" had died in a Montreal hospital.

Finally, after the 1947 Cup run, NHL president Clarence Campbell won ownership approval for an official, league-orchestrated all-star game to be played at Maple Leaf Gardens prior to the 1947-48 campaign.

Needless to say, I was thrilled because, at age 15, I not only was devouring The Game's Bible, The Hockey News, but was getting the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper delivered every day in our mailbox.

Thanks to The Hockey News, as well as the Globe, I followed every advance all-star story. I was eager to hear what the game's leaders had to say about this landmark event in the league's history.

"I endorsed our 'Official' All-Star Game," said Campbell, "because it not only was a good idea – like baseball's – but had other benefits."

Following, Campbell's blueprint, the NHL inaugurated a Players' Pension Fund, hailed by both stick handlers and the media alike. All-Star proceeds would go to the new fund.

Not surprisingly, fans like me were more interested in the game's concept – and result – rather than the pension moolah players would receive after retirement.

The Lords of Hockey had decided that the defending champion Maple Leafs would face a team of All-Stars obtained from the five other NHL clubs in Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and New York.

Montreal boasted the Connor McDavid of that era, Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, while that era's goaltending ace was multi-Vezina and Stanley Cup-winner Bill Durnan, also of the Habs.

I was dazzled by the notable names. My favorite Leafs would be led by captain Syl Apps fortified with a Kid Line of Ted (Teeder) Kennedy at center with Vic Lynn on the left side and Calder Trophy-winner Howie Meeker.

Likewise, the All-Stars had top-notch skaters at every position; especially center where Milt Schmidt of the Bruins and the Rangers' Edgar Laprade were among my heroes.

The theme – Who's Better, The Cup Champs Or The All-Stars? – was plastered over a half-page ad in the Globe with pictures of such future Hall of Famers as Detroit defenseman Black Jack Stewart and his left wing Ted Lindsay.

On October 13, 1947, the teams collided, and the ice almost melted from white heat feuds that erupted. One of my favorite writers, Jim Vipond of the Globe, couldn't curb his enthusiasm.

"The clash was 'exhibition' in name only," Vipond asserted. "The opposing players ripped into each other with Stanley Cup gusto to the noisy delight of 14,318 fans."

Campbell was equally delighted. The gross gate was $25,842 while the result was melodramatic all the way. Insightful critics such as Rangers manager-coach Frank Boucher found it hard to pick a winner.

Boucher: "If the All-Stars played several games together I have not the slightest doubt they'd win the series. Since this is not so, I shouldn't be surprised if Toronto beats them."

The Leafs first line – centered by captain Syl Apps with Bill Ezinicki on the right and Harry Watson – put the Champs ahead with Watson and Ezzie beating Durnan.

But the All-Stars rallied and, by the end of the middle frame, it was 3-2 for the Leafs and anyone's game; except for one player.

In a collision with Toronto defenseman Jim Thomson, Chicago's crack forward Bill (Wee Willie) Mosienko suffered a broken ankle and would be sidelined indefinitely.

"This is a huge loss," said the Black Hawks major domo Bill Tobin. "It breaks up our Pony Line."

Mosienko was the balance wheel on Chicago's top line which included the brothers Max and Doug Bentley. Tobin immediately began searching for a replacement.

Ironically, the NHL's second All-Star Game was slated for Chicago Stadium in1948 but several league officials wanted it cancelled because of Mosie's injury, but Campbell insisted that it be played, and it was.

As for the third period of the opener, Rocket Richard's early goal ignited an All-Star rally and later Richard and Milt Schmidt set up Doug Bentley with the winner.

Although the Leafs lost, Toronto fans – naturally, myself included – were delighted by sideline activity. One feature was a ceremony honoring past and present Leafs who had been First All-Stars.

They were Syl Apps, Turk Broda, Wally Stanowski, Gaye Stewart, Charlie Conacher, Harvey (Busher) Jackson, King Clancy and Tommy Anderson.

The partisan Toronto crowd loved that aspect as well as the feuding that erupted throughout the game. The Globe's Vipond commented on the meaner aspects as follows:

"The feuding was particularly rough between the Leafs and All-Star defensemen from Montreal, Butch Bouchard and Ken Reardon. They were involved in duets with Bill Ezinicki on several occasions."

One of the weirdest sights was the unusually-clothed referee and two linesmen. The officials appeared in midnight blue uniforms and were immediately dubbed "Campbell's Black Shirts."

Vipond: "They looked like the London air raid wardens of the Second World War.” Campbell said he wasn't sure the on-ice officials uniforms would be approved by the owners. (They were not.)

As for Mosienko's injury, the league president insisted that Thomson's hit was clean and that, correctly, no penalty was called on the play.

However, the injury did produce a chain reaction of events which began with Chicago's search for a Mosienko replacement.

Bill Tobin wound up in discussions with Conn Smythe. Within a month of the All-Star Game, Chicago obtained forwards Gus Bodnar, Gaye Stewart and Bud Poile as well as defensemen Bob Goldham and Ernie Dickens.

In return for the five Toronto regulars, Smythe received future Hall of Fame center Max Bentley and minor leaguer Cy Thomas.

"I hated seeing Mosie get hurt," said Smythe, "but Chicago needed help and got five good players. We got Maxie and he helped us win three Stanley Cups."

But Wee Willie's injury did leave a lasting impression on players for decades to come.

The fear of being wounded like Mosie eventually produced All-Star Games with a constant theme among the players – don't get hurt!



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