It was October 13, 1947. The first All-Star Game went down at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, one of Hockey’s cathedrals, still standing on Carlton Street in downtown Toronto, Ontario.
The game was a tight battle between the hometown team, the Maple Leafs and a team of NHL all-stars. If you know who won, don’t spoil it for everyone else.
The All-Stars game is easily one of the most fun hockey events of every year, one where anything could happen, but hopefully the team of hockey’s best players comes out on top. Spoiler alert: they don’t always win.
All-Star Games didn’t start with Hockey, but no other sport does it better than the NHL. I know, because my Canadian friend told me so over a breakfast of maple syrup and hockey pucks.
As the halfway point of the season, the NHL All-Star game offers an intermission of sorts, a moment of respite from the teeth-gnashing action giving fanatics acute heart palpitations.
The first one ever was in 1933, organized by a sports editor for the Chicago Tribune, Arch Ward, and Major League Baseball. They intended it as a one-time feature at the Chicago World’s Fair, but it did so well, they ran it back every year after that.
There were three similar informal fund-raising games played off-season by the NHL prior to 1947, but the ’47 game was the first official one.
Set up by the Players Committee the same year as the first game, the NHL All-Star Game would be a fundraiser. Part of the earnings from the game would go to charity, about a third. The rest would go into an emergency fund for the players.
It was a brilliant concept, an off-season game intended as a fundraiser, one not unique to the NHL.
The NFL has their Pro-Bowl (at the end of their season), the NBA an All-Star Game, and even Major League Soccer host an All-Star event every year.
It’s not business as usual on that rink, though. They don’t allow checking to protect the players from injury since they all have to go finish the season after it’s over.
Non-official All-Star Games
The first offseason NHL match up ever was in 1934, on Valentine’s Day. It was a packed crowd at the Maple Leaf Gardens. The NHL took note of the crowds.
In 1937 and 1939, they organized and All-Star game again to raise funds for individual players who’d suffered or as in the case of the ’30 game, had passed away.
It took a minute for someone to do the math. These games drew huge crowds and made good money.
They would do it again, but annually now, starting in 1947.
The First Official NHL All-Star Game
Just like the ’34 game, the first official All-Stars match-up was a packed house. Fire marshal be damned, Maple Leaf Gardens was standing room only.
As would go the All-Star Games going forward, the matchup was the best of the NHL against the prior season’s Stanley Cup champs. That was the Toronto Maple Leafs in ’47.
Harry Watson led the Leafs with a goal and two assists, making it look like a loss for the All-Stars by the second period. The Leafs had them three to one, but the All-Stars battled back.
The Stars goalie, Frank Brimsek, entered the game late in the second, shutting down the Stars’ goal. Stars player, Grant Warwick scored their second point, then, early in the third period, Maurice “Rocket” Richard tied up the score.
It was three to three in the third. Then, Doug Bentley from the Stars scored the game-winning fourth point a minute after Richard’s goal. With no other points earned in the fourth, the Stars took the win.
The first game went to the Stars, of course, but it wasn’t easy. A “W” for a team of players who’ve not practiced or played together is challenging.
The opposing team has repetition on their side, especially in the “W” department. They’re used to winning.
The All-Star team is not only unaccustomed to winning as a team, they’re unaccustomed to playing as one. Some of those players have a history. They all want to be the star.
It makes for some of the most darn-interesting hockey and great fodder for conversation during a meal of hockey pucks and maple syrup.
This year makes seventy years of the tradition.
Found this YouTube clip of the 1947 game: