The 32nd National Hockey League All-Star Game, unofficially known as the second coming of Gordie Howe and Marcel Dionne, is expected to attract an all-time record professional hockey crowd of more than 20,000 to the new Joe Lewis Arena Tuesday night (WBFF-TV-45) at 8 p.m.
This is the 23rd all-star appearance for the 51-year-old Howe, who broke all NHL scoring records during 25 seasons with the Red Wings. This time he holds center stage as the designated representative of the Hartford Whalers, chosen by Prince of Wales Conference Coach Scotty Bowman despite the fact he has not scored a goal in more than two months.
"He has done so much for hockey, it seemed the natural thing to do," Bowman said. "The admiration I've had for him myself, all he's done for hockey, the fact that the game is in Detroit, this is probably his last season -- I figured the other guys would have another chance."
Dionne, another Red Wing star who took the free-agent route to Los Angeles in 1975 after a 121-point season here needed no sentimental touch to earn his all-star berth. Dionne is the NHL's leading scorer with 40 goals and 99 points.
The men who flank Dionne in Los Angeles, 30-plus goal scorers Charlie Slimmer and Dave Taylor, were voted to the team, but they are among six players who were excused because of injuries.
One popular substitution placed the New York Rangers' 700-goal scorer, Phil Esposito, on the Campbell Conference team, opposite 797-goal scorer Howe. Esposito replaced teammate Anders Hedberg because Ranger officials feared Hedberg might aggravate a shoulder injury that has not kept him out of the lineup.
Such concern prompted guffaws from critics who wondered how anyone could get hurt, considering the absence of physical contact that usually typifies all-star hockey. There has not been a major penality in all-star competition since 1953, when Red Kelly and Bert Olmstead continued a feud of long standing.
Esposito, his goaltending brother Tony and Boston's Jean Ratelle are the only men playing Tuesday who were born when Howe made his first all-star appearance in 1948.
Tony Esposito's status is questionable, because he injured a hand in Sunday's victory over Toronto. Asked whether Esposito would play, Campbell Coach Al Arbour said, "He'd better." Then, after being informed of the injury, Arbour muttered, "You find out all the time."
Arbour began his 12-year playing career in Detroit and he said, "It's only too bad this game isn't in the old building (the Olympia). But this is a great building and it's going to be a showcase of the NHL when it's finished."
Unfortunately, the Joe Louis Arena is not complete with walls bare, stairways dusty and skyboxes uninhabitable. Still, with enough standees the crowd Tuesday is likely to top the pro hockey record of 20,009 established in St. Louis in 1973.
The fans are liable to be treated to some surprises. In Sunday night's game against St. Lewis, the public-address system was silent until the midpoint of the first period, the clock twice malfunctioned, a broken pane of glass required nine minutes for replacement and the scoreboard indicated at various times "6:99 to play" and "Visitors 101, Detroit 0."
Washington's representatives in the All-Star Game are defenseman Robert Picard and trainer Gump Embro. The only Washington player ever to score an all-star point is Dennis Dupere, who recorded an assist for the winning Wales team in 1975.
The past Capitals -- Dupere, Bill Clement, Guy Charron and Bob Sirois -- have always been on the winning side, since the Wales club won all four meetings under the present format. However, this time Washington is in the Campbell corner, having shifted allegiance last summer.
The Canadian and United States Olympic teams will play a 20-minute preliminary before the main event.
A delayed telecast is scheduled for WTTG-TV-5 at 11:30 p.m.