The NHL all-star game was not always a big business venture masquerading as a hockey game.

Truth is, the game's roots are firmly planted in philanthropy.

What has evolved into a modern, mid-season extravaganza was conceived out of charitable intent -- a benefit game held for Irvine (Ace) Bailey at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on Feb. 14, 1934.

Bailey, a Maple Leafs legend, suffered a fractured skull on a career-ending check by Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins on Dec. 12, 1933.

So, the Leafs faced off against a team of elite NHL players -- 18 of them future Hall of Famers -- to raise some $23,000 on Bailey's behalf.

Bailey was doubly rewarded as the Leafs won 7-3.

A second benefit was held three years later, this time at the Montreal Forum for the family of Howie Morenz, only 34 when he died of a heart attack on Mar. 8, 1937.

Morenz was a three-time Hart Trophy winner with the Montreal Canadiens whose career ended abruptly when he broke his leg less than two months earlier.

The host team for the benefit combined players from the cross-town rival Canadiens and Maroons, while the opposition was again an assemblage of all-stars from other NHL clubs.

The third and final "unofficial" All-Star game was also staged at the Forum, in 1939, in honour of Albert (Babe) Siebert.

Siebert, a star with the Maroons, New York Rangers, Bruins and Canadiens, drowned in Lake Huron on Aug. 25.

He was 35.

Seeking a celebratory showcase following the Second World War, the NHL revived the all-star format to kick off the 1947 season.

The first "official" game pitted the reigning Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs against top talent plucked from the remaining Original Six rosters.

The All-Stars prevailed 4-3.

For two decades thereafter, the All-Star game was a staple of the NHL season and its format unaltered, save for two occasions.

That was in 1951 and 1952, when players named first and second-team all-stars were divided into two evenly matched teams.

The fifties were memorable for another moment in all-star, indeed hockey history.

It was prior to the 1957 gala that Canadiens netminder Jacques Plante unveiled his now-legendary fibreglass mask -- the first ever.

Though head coach Toe Blake refused to allow him to wear it in the All-Star game, Plante donned it during the regular season.

MVP honours were first doled out in 1962, to Eddie Shack of the Leafs, no less; Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux share the record of three MVP awards apiece.

No all-star game was held in 1966, at which time it was switched to mid-season.

When play resumed in 1967, Canadiens goaltenders Charlie Hodge and Gary Bauman combined for a 35-save, 3-0 shutout at the Forum.

It stands as the sole shutout in all-star history.

As the NHL expanded, so too did the All-Star game grow in prominence.

Moreover, it mirrored the changing face of the league.

Between 1969 and 1974, it was East Division versus the West Division.

From 1975-93, the Campbell and Wales Conferences battled for bragging rights.

The game reflected further re-alignment from 1994-97 by featuring the Eastern and Western Conferences.

The current configuration -- North America against the World -- debuted in 1998.

Whatever the format, the All-Star game has provided many memorable moments.

In 1978, Gilbert Perreault scored at 3:55 of overtime to give the Wales a 3-2 win at Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo.

It remains the only overtime winner in all-star annals.

Gordie Howe made his record 23rd and final all-star appearance in the 1980 classic at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena.

The 51-year-old Hall of Famer, representing the Hartford Whalers, assisted on the Wales' final tally in a 6-3 triumph.

Gretzky inherited the spotlight from Howe, and in 1983, scored four goals during a 12:58 span in a 9-3 Campbell rout.

Lemieux (1990), Vincent Damphousse (1991) and Mike Gartner (1993) later equalled Gretzky's output.

Lemieux, by the way, is the lone rookie to earn MVP honours.

That was in 1985, when he registered two goals and one assist in a 6-4 win for the Wales.

Lemieux, currently playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins following a 3 1/2 retirement, is a member of this year's North American all-star squad.

The international flavour of the present format evokes memories of 1979, when the All-Star game was replaced by a three-game Challenge Cup between the NHL and Soviet Union at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Ken Dryden outduelled Vladislav Tretiak in the opener, 4-2, but Tretiak stole Game 2 for the Soviets, 5-4.

Vladimir Myshkin then backstopped the USSR to a 6-0 blowout over Gerry Cheevers and Co. in the finale.

A similar two-game set called Rendez-Vous '87 was held at Le Colisee in Quebec City.

Grant Fuhr and the NHLers grabbed Game 1, 4-3.

Evgeny Belosheykhin and the Soviets took Game 2, 5-3.