Wayne Gretzky cruised away with the all-star game MVP award in 1983. ((Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press) )

The NHL All-Star Game has undergone many transformations since the first official matchup 72 years ago.

It had its origins in several unofficial all-star games organized in the 1930s to raise money for the families of Ace Bailey, who suffered a career-ending injury, and later Howie Morenz and Albert (Babe) Siebert, who met untimely deaths.

Seeking a celebratory showcase following the Second World War, the NHL revived the all-star format to kick off the 1947 season, with the defending Stanley Cup champion taking on the best players from the remaining Original Six rosters.

The all-stars prevailed over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first such matchup.

When the NHL expanded to 12 teams in the late 1960s, the format soon changed to East versus West, and then Campbell against Wales. In recent years, the game would take on a more international flavour and be complemented by another day's worth of activities and skills.

Here are 10 of the greatest moments/games from all-star history:

The gloves are off

The league tries a new format in 1951 — the first against second-team all-stars — and the game ends in a 2-2 tie, a first. But what makes this game at Maple Leaf Gardens remarkable are a pair of fights — Detroit's Gordie Howe squares off with Maurice Richard, while his Red Wing teammate Ted Lindsay tangles with Toronto's Teeder Kennedy.

Howe's highs


Gordie Howe played in 23 all-star games during his Hall-of-Fame career. ((Assoicated Press) )

Gordie Howe scores the winning goal and adds another as the all-stars beat Montreal 5-2 at the Forum. The Red Wing, who was tied with Maurice Richard for the career all-star goal record heading into the game, has nine to go with 16 points — also the most ever at the time.

All-stars fire blanks

News accounts of the January 1967 all-star game describe it as a less-than-thrilling game, but it is historic for two reasons. For the first time the game is played midway through the season — and more noteworthy, the first and only shutout occurs. Montreal's Charlie Hodge and Gary Bauman combine to make 35 saves as the Canadiens top the rest of the league's best 3-0. John Ferguson scores two goals for Montreal.

Buffalo blues

The years 1976 to 1978 feature some terrific battles between the Wales and Campbell sides, the last of which is marked by the first overtime contest and an MVP controversy.

Buffalo's Gilbert Perreault and Rick Martin delight the home fans in a 3-2 Wales win over Campbell. Martin, who scored two goals to earn MVP honours the year before, is at it again, tying the game for Wales with less than two minutes left. Perreault is credited with the overtime goal (though it may have hit Phil Esposito).

The MVP award, however, goes to Campbell goalie Billy Smith, who stopped all 16 shots he faced in the first half of the game. The fans boo the choice heartily, but the magnanimous Perreault later says the New York Islanders goalie deserved the honour.

And Howe

The final score was 6-3 for Wales, but this was all about celebrating 51-year-old Gordie Howe's contribution to the game. Back in the NHL after the WHA disbands, Howe returns to Detroit as a Hartford Whaler to play in his 23rd and final all-star game. The last player introduced, Howe is honoured with an ovation several minutes in length.

Only two of the other players in the game in Detroit had been born when Howe played in his first all-star game. Not content to be just a sentimental figure, Howe contributes an assist to his team's cause to finish with 19 all-star points in his career.


A late replacement in the 1983 game for Vancouver teammate Richard Brodeur, goalie John Garrett sees his almost-certain MVP nod, with its accompanying car, taken away by Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky scores four goals in the third period of a 9-3 Campbell rout, breaking Ted Lindsay's decades-old three-goal mark.

Garrett supporters point out that Gretzky's last three goals come when the Campbell team already has victory well in hand.

"I think John was up to the glove compartment, a horn and two tires when Mr. Gretzky took over," said Lanny McDonald of the Calgary Flames.

The Magnificent One

Mario Lemieux wins his second MVP by the age of only 22 with a tour de force performance in St. Louis in 1988. Lemieux gets points on all his team's goals and scores the overtime winner in a 6-5 Wales victory.

Lemieux's six points (three goals, three assists) and the five assists from Montreal's Mats Naslund are records that still stand.

Nolan's right

In an era where regular season games are increasingly being bottled up, the all-star games of the 1990s often feature double-digit scores. In 1997, the teams combine for a record 10 goals in the second period.

The East wins 11-7, but San Jose's Owen Nolan steals the show in front of the home's fans by making like Babe Ruth and points to the location of his shot, the top right corner, against the league's best goalie, Buffalo's Dominik Hasek.

Hasek was less than pleased with the result, which was also Nolan's third goal of the game.

Top of the world


Mats Sundin and the NHL's World all-stars faced off against the North American all-stars in 1998. ((Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images) )

With the international hockey field more competitive, and the all-star format a bit tired, the league pits North American players against the best of the rest of the world in 1998.

The gambit works in restoring some intrigue to the game, and because of the new format, a European player wins MVP honours for the first time. Teemu Selanne of Anaheim scores three goals, though his World side would fall 8-7 to North America.


Shoot it out

A precursor to the excitement that was to come for NHL fans: Atlanta's Dany Heatley scores four goals in regulation, tying an all-star record.

With the game itself tied at six apiece, the first all-star shootout occurs. Heatley also scores in the shootout but is the only Eastern Conference player to do so.

"It's something they maybe should think about," Heatley said of the new wrinkle, and two years later the league and players take heed.