A Brief History: Toronto Maple Leafs At the All-Star Game

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 28: Auston Matthews
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 28: Auston Matthews /

With the 2019 NHL All-Star game taking place tonight at the SAP Centre, we take a look back at the Toronto Maple Leafs history in the midseason event.

While the All-Star game is a multi-day spectacle that features some of the greatest players from across the entire NHL with at least one representative from each of the league’s 31 franchises, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, when the NHL All-Star game first made its debut in the 1940s, not only did it occur in mid-October, but it was held between the previous year’s Stanley Cup champion and the best of the rest.

On October 13, 1947, the NHL’s best faced off against the hometown favourites, the Toronto Maple Leafs at the famous Maple Leaf Gardens. While the Leafs would drop the inaugural contest by a score of 4-3, the game featured many all-time greats including Syl Apps, who led the Leafs squad with a goal and an assist.

After a highly competitive first NHL All-Star game in which 14,000 spectators packed the Gardens, the NHL would continue to hold the event annually under this format until for 1951 before taking a brief hiatus from this model for two years.

Eventually, it returned to use the original format in 1968.

During these two decades from ‘47-‘68, the Toronto Maple Leafs would serve as the Stanley Cup champions six times (‘48, ‘49, ‘62, ‘63, ‘64, ‘68), winning twice in 1962 and 1968 and hosting the event seven times.

While the Leafs weren’t very successful in the NHL All-Star games when the club was the defending Stanley Cup champions, there were definitely many memorable Maple Leafs moments:

In 1948, the first fighting penalty was called in an All-Star game as Leaf’s blueliner Gus Mortson dropped the mitts with 19-year-old Gordie Howe.

In 1959, Frank “The Big M” Mahovlich would be named an All-Star for the first time, beginning a streak of 15 consecutive appearances. He would score his first All-Star game goal a year later in 1960, helping the NHL All-Stars defeat the Canadiens at the Forum.

In the 16th (1962) NHL All-Star game, the entire Toronto Maple Leafs Team once again took part in the contest and won by a score of 6-1. Ironically, however, the Toronto Maple Leafs almost had to ice a roster full of average Joe’s, as the NHL required players to be under contract to compete in the game and 90% of the Toronto roster was without one.

Somehow, the players were able to sign contracts at the last minute to allow them to play. Eddie Shack would be named the All-Star game MVP.

After moving the All-Star game from October to January for the 1967 edition, the NHL made another change beginning in 1969. The Stanley Cup championship team would no longer compete in the game, instead, there would be the West and East All-Star teams. During this period, Maple Leaf great and the franchise’s second most leading point getter, Darryl Sittler, would make his first NHL All-Star appearance in 1975 at the Montreal Forum.

In 1990, the NHL once again changed the All-Star game by creating the NHL All-Star weekend like we see today. It was the first time the NHL All-Stars competed in a skills competition. Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Al Iafrate won the hardest shot competition after pounding the puck into the back of the net at 96.0 Mph.

The following year, another Maple Leaf made history as Vincent Damphousse tied Gretzky and Lemieux for most goals in a single All-Star game, after notching four goals en route to being named MVP.

In 1999, Maple Leaf all-time leading point scorer and longtime captain Matt’s Sundin had an incredible performance for team world, recording one goal and three points as the Leaf’s only representative in the game.

A year later, however, the Swede would be joined by teammates Curtis Joseph, Dmitry Yushkevich and Head Coach Pat Quinn, as Toronto would once again play host to the event at the brand new Air Canada Centre.

More recently, the NHL All-Star weekend hasn’t been as serious as it was in the past and has become more of an event for players to get to know each other and for fans to meet their idols. This less serious approach has led to some funny moments for Maple Leaf players, especially Phil Kessel, who was the last player picked under the newly introduced draft model.

Since that quite embarrassing moment for Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team has bounced back with some memorable moments since the NHL All-Star game introduced the current 3 on 3 tournament model and Auston Matthews broke into the league.

The 2018 NHL All-Star game goes tonight on Sportsnet at 8:15 ET / 5:15 PT, as Auston Matthew and John Tavares look to add to the collection of great All-Star moments by Toronto Maple Leafs.

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