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TBT: The First NHL All-Star Game

Prior to the creation of the official annual NHL all-star game in 1947, there were multiple “benefit games” to help players and families in needs. With this past Sunday being the 82nd anniversary of the Howie Morenz Memorial All-Star Game, I thought it would be a good time to go over a quick refresher of the first unofficial all-star game in NHL History. The Ace Bailey Benefit All-Star Game set the stage for the Howie Morenz memorial game and future versions of the all-star game from there.

As a brief prelude I should mention one of the first all-star/benefit hockey games on record was actually played before the creation of the NHL. It is actually seen as one of the first benefit games of any major sport (as referenced in the book Blades on Ice: A Century of Professional Hockey). The Eastern Coast Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA), one of the leagues that eventually fed a team to the NHL, set up a fundraiser for the family of William Hodgson “Hod” Stuart. Stuart, one of the first nine members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, decided to quit hockey after defending the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Wanderers in 1907. He died tragically after breaking his neck while diving into a lake that summer.

A newspaper ad for the first ever benefit game in professional sports.

The Blades on Ice book tells us the event sold out days in advance as hockey fans mourned the loss of one of the game’s earliest stars. Described by the Montreal Herald as “unique in the history of hockey in Montreal, if not in the whole of Canada,” the event featured the Montreal Wanderers, Stuart’s former team, playing against a squad of top players from the other teams in the ECAHA. The Westmount Arena agreed to host the event for no charge, and all proceeds from the game went to Stuart’s family, totaling over $2,100 – or about $57,000 in today’s money based on inflation. The Wanderers ran out to a 7-1 lead that eventually fell drastically, but were able to hold onto a 10–7 victory.

Hod” Stuart.

After the “Hod” Stuart Benefit Game there were three benefit/memorial all-star games that pre-dated the NHL’s official All-Star Game in 1947. Those games were the Ace Bailey Benefit Game, the Howie Morenz Memorial Game, and the Babe Siebert Memorial Game.

For this week, we are looking at the first NHL all-star game, which is the Ace Bailey Benefit Game.

Ace Bailey Benefit Game:

Irvine “Ace” Bailey and Eddie Shore are two of the most famous names in early hockey history. Their histories met a few times over the course of their respective careers, but became bound together eternally on December 12, 1933 at the old Boston Gardens (or Gahdens if you’re from the Boston area).

On that fateful night, the Leafs had a lead and were finishing killing a penalty when Shore got the puck and came streaking up the ice only to be tripped by another Hall of Famer, Red Horner. Shore, known for his toughness, saw red and sought revenge.

Eddie Shore

In a case of unfortunate circumstances, Shore hit Bailey from behind while he was bent over as he thought he was getting back at Horner. According to Frank Selke, Toronto’s assistant general manager at the time, it was a brutal scene:

“Bailey was lying on the blue line with his head turned sideways as though his neck were broken. His knees were raised, legs twitching ominously.”

Selke went on to say that Horner saw Shore’s hit, and Bailey laying on the ice and took his own form of retaliation that saw Shore end up also hitting his head on the ice and unconscious:

“Shore, little realizing how badly Bailey had been hurt, merely smiled. His seeming callousness infuriated Horner, who then hit Shore a punch on the jaw. It was a right uppercut, which stiffened the big defense star like an axed steer. As Eddie fell. with his body rigid and straight as a board, Shore’s head struck the ice, splitting open.”

Shore remembered the incident in his own way, as the April 1956 issue of the Blueline magazine quoted Shore claiming his innocence:

“I had absolutely no premeditation. I had never had any animosity toward Bailey, and there was no malice in my heart. I was partially dazed after colliding with Ace and had no recollection of seeing Horner hit me. All I remember was when I woke up in the dressing room.”

Bailey ended up in the Bruins’ dressing room being seen to by local doctors when Shore, having regained consciousness, went over to apologize. As a Toronto Star article recalls, the Leafs’ star pulled a typical hockey player move, brushing off the act and injury:

“It’s all part of the game,” Bailey said before lapsing into a coma.

The same Star article recounts the harrowing hours after that:

“Bailey was rushed to a hospital with a cerebral hemorrhage, and by the next morning, his condition was so poor that his death seemed imminent. A surgeon performed operations to alleviate pressure on the brain. The doctor revealed that there was “an intraventricular hemorrhage that usually proves to be fatal within a few hours. The fact that he has lived this long is a miracle.” He soberly added, “His chances of living are very slim.” A priest was called to administer last rites. Doctors were measuring Ace’s life expectancy in minutes, but by the following morning, Bailey showed sufficient recovery to give modest hope to the medical staff.”

Bailey would make it through however, baffling doctors and eventually waking up from his coma on December 16, 1933. He survived the ordeal, but knew the severity of the injuries meant his playing career was over.

Toronto Daily Star front page of December 16, 1933. Photo: Toronto Star

For his part, Shore was actually investigated by Boston police and would have been charged with manslaughter had Bailey died. He was also suspended immediately by the NHL, and the Bruins sent him home to heal while the NHL investigated the incident. A month after the fact, the NHL determined Shore should be allowed to play again as he was not viewed as a repeat offender and Bailey had absolved Shore of guilt multiple times. He had served a 16 game suspension by that point, the longest suspension in NHL history at that point.

Despite the NHL serving a form of justice against Shore, it did not change the fact that Bailey’s head injuries ended his playing career. He and his family were left without an income. Shore felt terrible and wanted to help the Bailey family.

Without an outpouring of concern and offers to help, the NHL, decided to take action as a 2017 Stan Fischler article on NHL.com notes:

“On Feb. 14, 1934, the Ace Bailey Benefit Game was played at Maple Leaf Gardens, with the home team playing against a team of All-Stars. One player who expressly asked to play was Shore, whose wish was granted.”

Ace Bailey drops the puck at his benefit all-star game. Photo: Hockey Hall of Fame

The game was packed with over 14,000 fans crammed in to see the NHL’s stars take on Bailey’s Maple Leafs. Tears welled up for Bailey, the players, and fans when Bailey presented Leafs’ players with their own special all-star jersey. The jersey featured the famous Maple Leaf logo as well as a smaller chest piece alongside the larger “ACE” letters stitched on to the front of the jerseys.

A replica of the original Ace Bailey Benefit Game jersey that Leafs’ players wore.

Bailey would also get to shake hands with Shore before the game and Shore showed him the helmet he had decided to start wearing since the incident. Bailey would go on to do a ceremonial puck drop, but not before Leafs then-GM Conn Smythe took over the arena microphone and said that no Maple Leaf would ever wear Bailey’s number 6 again, effectively retiring his number.

It was the first number to be retired in professional sports history.

The game itself was one-sided, with Bailey’s Leafs triumphing 7-3. The biggest victory of the night went to the Bailey family, as the tickets purchased that night at Maple Leaf Gardens raised $20,909 for Bailey and his family.

The success of the event paved the way for future benefit/all-star games, including the Howie Morenz Memorial Game after his untimely death (after complications stemming from a broken leg suffered in an NHL game) in 1937. Morenz was one of the goal scorers in Bailey’s benefit game for the NHL All-Stars.

The Montreal Forum packed with mourning teammates, family, friends, and fans of Howie Morenz.

These benefit all-star games eventually got the ball rolling with the NHL on brainstorming about future all-star matches. Eventually it was decided to host them as an annual event, starting in 1947 and continuing to this very year.

See you next week for more hockey history on Throwback Thursdays at Hooked on Hockey Magazine!

Steve Auld

Steve Auld

My name is Steve and I am from the very noble Auld clan of Niagara, where we respect our elders and follow the golden rules: elbows up, and keep your stick on the ice. When not tearing up beer league or ball hockey, I enjoy the occasional downtime I have with my fiancée and son. Love me some music too, all kinds. If you feel I did a good job or you want to argue, feel free to leave a comment!
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