The 37th National Hockey League All-Star Game, to be played Tuesday night in the Olympic Saddledome, offers further evidence that hockey is a sport for young legs.
Only two of the 40 players, Marcel Dionne of Los Angeles and Anders Hedberg of the New York Rangers, are older than 28. Three players -- Buffalo goaltender Tom Barrasso, Pittsburgh center Mario Lemieux and New Jersey center Kirk Muller -- are 19. Kevin Lowe, the eldest of eight Edmonton representatives, is 25.
Al Arbour of the New York Islanders, who will coach the Prince of Wales team for the fourth straight season, took note of the youth factor when he introduced Muller at today's press conference as "a youngster who loves to play the game and will have (Ray) Bourque and (Rod) Langway change his diaper after the first period tomorrow."
At 27, Langway is one of the elder statesmen in his fifth All-Star appearance. The other Washington representatives are Mike Gartner, 25, who played in the 1981 game, and first-time All-Stars Bob Carpenter, 21, and Scott Stevens, 20.
"Don't tell me about it," the Washington captain said. "It's hard to believe -- at 27 -- that most of the other guys are younger than me."
This is Wayne Gretzky's sixth NHL All-Star Game, after one appearance in the old World Hockey Association contest, and the Edmonton center noted the change of command.
"I remember the guys I played with my first year and now they're all different guys," said Gretzky, who turned 24 last month. "I remember being 19 and playing with guys 28 and 29. Now there are other guys 18 and 19 here, but there aren't many 28 and 29."
Gretzky, of course, is the focal point of the contest. His four goals in one period in 1983 rank as the top achievement in All-Star history and keyed one of only two victories by the Campbell Conference in nine games under the present format.
"We want to win, of course," Gretzky said. "We have a lot of pride and we want to do our best. But we also want to enjoy it and have fun. That's what it's all about. We do try a few more fancy things than in a regular game. That comes from no body contact."
For a defensive specialist like Langway, the idea is to keep from making a glaring mistake.
"An All-Star Game is a relaxed type of feeling," Langway said. "You try not to be embarrassed. You make the easy play and give the puck to players who are more adept at that style. If I were playing with Gretzky, I'd give it to him 80 percent of the time."
Any adjustment would be difficult for Stevens, whose natural instinct is to hammer whatever puck carrier heads his way.
"I can't change my style," Stevens said. "If I tried, I'd just get burnt. I'll still take the body and play aggressively. But I certainly won't try to run at anybody.
"I couldn't do that here anyway. There are so many good guys that if you took a run at them, you'd look silly. Try to run Gretzky -- he'll stop and start and wave goodbye."
Arbour was undecided about the makeup of his lines, although he will keep intact his Islanders unit of John Tonelli, Brent Sutter and Mike Bossy. Since the Wales team has five centers, there is a good chance that the Islanders' Bryan Trottier will move to left wing on a line with Carpenter and Gartner. The other possible linemate for the two Capitals is Michel Goulet of Quebec.
If the All-Star Game provides a showcase for swift, high-scoring forwards, it promises a difficult time for goaltenders. Philadelphia's Pelle Lindbergh, back for a second try after being blitzed by Gretzky in 1983, had a tough time the rest of that season.
"That was bad at the time," Lindbergh said. "It was embarrassing. But Gretzky is Gretzky. He can make anybody have a bad game."
"It's offense-oriented, of course," Barrasso said. "There are enough quality defensemen that if the game had a team meaning, it wouldn't be any problem. But a defenseman doesn't want to go out and block a shot and get hurt.
"There's a lot more back-and-forth play, a lot of two-on-ones and three-on-twos. That makes it tougher for a goalie."
Injuries in weekend games forced out Tony McKegney of Minnesota, Bill Hajt of Buffalo and Mark Howe of Philadelphia. Named as late replacements were Steve Payne of Minnesota, Mike Ramsey of Buffalo and Brad Marsh of Philadelphia.