With the 2019 All-Star Game and accompanying festivities taking place this weekend, it seemed as good a time as any to look back at the one and only time the game took place in DC - so we’ve enlisted unofficial Caps’ historian and friend of the Rink Glenn Dreyfuss to tell us a little more about the momentous event:
In 1982, the only year the Capitals hosted an NHL All-Star Game, guess which faces adorned the cover of the game program. Wayne Gretzky? Mike Bossy? Dennis Maruk, the Caps’ representative? No, no, and no.
Try President Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Someone figured D.C. equaled politics, ice sports be damned. Yet a year earlier when L.A. hosted, the All-Star program cover featured hockey players, not Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood. One other note about the program: Calgary defenseman Pekka Rautakallio from Finland was an All Star, but Finnish President Mauno Koivisto was snubbed from the cover.
Although Reagan only showed up at Capital Centre in program form, the President did host players at a White House luncheon. Reagan received a personalized All-Star sweater and replica Stanley Cup. Addressing Gretzky and the hometown team, the President joked, “Rumor has it, Wayne, that Washington has been trying to trade and get you. I asked what Edmonton is getting in return, and they told me two first-round picks and the state of Texas.”
The morning skate for both teams at Capital Centre was open to the public at no charge. News accounts estimated that only a few hundred took advantage. Washington hockey fans better represented at the game itself, occupying all 18,130 seats. Locals who didn’t purchase tickets (priced $10-$17) didn’t see the game, because there was no D.C.-area TV broadcast.
It didn’t help that the squad names were awkward and unfamiliar to most U.S. fans – Campbell (Western Conference) versus Prince of Wales (Eastern Conference). One side was named for Clarence Campbell, NHL President from 1946 to 1977. The expansion Capitals arrived at the tail end of his 31-year term, and the Prez spoke dismissively of them in a Washington Star interview. Campbell said “people were laughing” at the Caps’ front office, which he labeled “a disgrace.”
The Wales Conference was named for England’s Prince Edward, who gifted a trophy for use by the NHL in 1925. The Capitals hoisted the current Prince of Wales Trophy for winning the Eastern Conference Final last spring. However, like Confederate statues, continuing to honor the Prince deserves a rethink. Best remembered as King Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne in 1936 to marry an American divorcee, it’s well established the King was also a racist and Nazi sympathizer.
Before the opening faceoff, a trio handled the ceremonial puck drop: Gordie Howe, Phil Esposito, and Canadian diplomat Ken Taylor. You’ll recognize Taylor’s name if you’ve seen Argo, the Best Picture Oscar winner in 2013. Taylor, Canadian ambassador to Iran, used a ruse to shepherd six Americans to safety during the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis.
Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog listed the 1982 star-spangled sweaters among the worst in All-Star history, claiming they “made players appear to be suffering from a skin-based contagion.” The blog imagined a conversation between uniform designers. “Hey, Charlie, you think 100 stars per sweater is enough?” “Nah, Eddie, bettah make it 200.” The blog doesn’t specify why the mythical “Charlie” has a New England accent.
Dennis Maruk holds a singular distinction as the only Capital to be a hometown selection for the All-Star Game. In ‘81-’82, the center not only raced to a club record for goals (60, since eclipsed), but also assists (76) and points (136).
If you think all athletes are blasé about all-star appearances, read what Maruk told Hockey Digest about being the fan favorite in 1982 at Capital Centre. “I was the last guy introduced. The place erupted with applause, a standing ovation. It was great to see that we did have a lot of fans in Washington. It sent chills down my spine. I was so happy my mom and dad were there to see it. A lot of players are fortunate enough to play on a Stanley Cup winner. I wasn’t one of them. But with the reception I got from the fans that day, I consider that my Stanley Cup. That’s the game I’ll never forget.”
If you’ve forgotten, the Wales beat the Campbells by the remarkably modest score of 4-2. Maruk had an assist, Gretzky scored his first All-Star goal, and the Islanders’ Bossy, with two scores, was named MVP.
Tight checking – yes, really – limited the squads to a combined 13 third period shots! Tom Boswell in the Washington Post reported on “many honest, heartfelt checks and several exciting pileups in the goal mouth.” Esposito said all the hitting made this one of the best All-Star games he’d seen. Another testament to genuine defense: five minor penalties were issued. To illustrate the rampant goal inflation of recent years, consider 2009, the last game using an East vs. West format. The score was 4-2 after one period, and 23 total goals were scored.