All-star games can be real yawns, with no hitting, low scoring and few memorable moments.
Not this time. Actually, the NHL's 35th annual midyear contest might have started out that way, but thanks to a third-period scoring burst by Wayne Gretzky, and a goaltender who wouldn't have attended, much less played, a week ago, the Campbell Conference's 9-3 victory over the Prince of Wales players provided some genuine entertainment.
"We are in the entertainment business, after all," said Calgary's Lanny McDonald, who scored midway through the third period. "It was a chance not only to show what you can do, but to have a good time at it. I had a great time."
So did Gretzky, chosen the most valuable player despite a pair of lackadaisical opening periods. He scored all four of his goals in the final 20 minutes, setting an All-Star Game record for the most scores in a game, much less a period, by an individual. Former Detroit star Ted Lindsay scored three goals in the 1950 game.
"This might be the No. 1 highlight on my list," said Gretzky, whose other highlights include 28 NHL scoring records and three straight most valuable player awards during the regular season.
"Emotionally, I'm very excited and very thrilled I was able to do it.
With the score 4-2 in favor of the Campbells, Gretzky connected at 6:20, 10:31, 15:32 and 19:18, all against Philadelphia's Pelle Lindbergh.
"Gretzky just turns defensive chances into offensive chances," said Washington's Rod Langway, who was beaten on Gretzky's final goal. "He isolates defensemen. He'll make the good pass and hold the puck. There's nobody like him."
Langway's team, the Wales, started well, getting the opening goal by Quebec's Michel Goulet less than four minutes into the game. Thanks to an unassisted goal by Ray Bourque, who controlled the puck from the red line into the Campbell zone, the Wales led, 2-1, after one period.
"Tonight was meant to be Gretzky's game," Al Arbour, who coached the Wales, said.
Gretzky wasn't the only one who had a night to remember. John Garrett, the Campbells' No. 2--and winning--goalie, is the sort of story that had the feature-seekers grinning. Garrett, who was traded to Vancouver from Quebec last week, was filling in for teammate Richard Brodeur, who injured an ear drum Saturday.
"People have asked if I'm a little embarrassed about playing in this," he said. "But the way I look at it, Richard's injury was unfortunate, but how many chances will I get to play in an NHL All-Star Game?"
When Garrett came in for Chicago's Murray Bannerman, McDonald skated over each time he made a save to encourage him. "After one save, he said, 'you got the glove compartment,' " Garrett said, referring to the car awarded to the MVP. "I think I got up to two more tires, but when Gretzky got his third, Lanny said, 'Sayonara. '"
McDonald said he just wanted to keep Garrett, and the rest of the Campbells, loose. Not that Garrett was antsy over his first all-star appearance. "I don't think Johnny's ever been nervous in his life," McDonald said. He bristled at the suggestion that Garrett might not belong among the stars. "There was no feeling like that on our team," he said. "He's put in his time in the league."
In part thanks to Garrett's work in the net, the Campbells slowly reversed the early momentum, beginning in the second period. "That Minnesota line turned it around for us," McDonald said. Members of the North Star contingent--Neal Broten-Dino Ciccarelli-Tom McCarthy--accounted for the tying and go-ahead goals in the second period, and then Gretzky began producing.
"This season I am a little behind the pace of last year," said Gretzky, who last season set NHL standards for goals (92), assists (120) and points (212). "But I know I've got to go out and pick up my socks and get back on track." Like tonight.