The Best NHL All-Star Experience

The Best NHL All-Star Experience

The NHL All-Star Game doesn’t exactly captivate its audience with spectacular performances every year. He followed the course of other professional sports All-Star experiences with meaningless exhibition play with the biggest named stars giving a nonchalant effort. However, Rendezvous 87 provided the pinnacle of All-Star competition with an international showcase that authentically promoted the NHL product and the game of hockey to new groups of fans.

Rendezvous ’87

Rendez-vous 87 featured an all-star NHL team against the Soviet Union national team in a two-game series in Quebec City in 1987. Marcel Aubut, the former president of the Quebec Nordiques, continued a lofty vision when the NHL chose Quebec as the host of the 1987 All-Star festivities. He overcame incredible odds involving financial shortages, international politics and travel restrictions to make the showcase a reality.

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“It shouldn’t be a party just between us hockey fans,” Aubut told NHL governors, according to The Hockey Chronicle. “It should be an event where sports fans who otherwise have no interest in hockey have no choice but to watch, and where even people who have no interest in sports have no choice but to watch. no choice but to watch. This is how you promote a sport.

Wayne Gretzky, Date 87 (Photo by B Bennett/Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

The showcase took place about seven months before the scheduled start of the 1987 Canada Cup, the fourth of five international ice hockey tournaments between the best. The Soviets won gold at the 1981 Canada Cup and led a very powerful Canadian team to the wire in a close semi-final in 1984. Rendez-vous 87 allowed North Americans to see what the best the Soviets had to offer before the fight for international prestige in the fall.

Aubut did not limit the event to an international ice hockey spectacle or the bitter competition of a rivalry. He remained faithful to his vision by creating a “gigantic cultural celebration around the game” in Quebec. An NHL All-Star Game involving “dressed up dinners, fashion shows, rock concerts and international celebrities” has become a reality thanks to Rendez-vous ’87. Aubut later described the event as a way to promote peace and unity during the Cold War.

“What I love the most is every All-Star Game I go to now that they say ‘Hey Marcel, we’re hoping for another Rendezvous one day.’ He’s not dying. He’ll never die,” Aubut told The Hockey News in 2012.

2 classic hockey games

Both games between the NHL All-Stars and the Soviet Union took place at the Coliseum in Quebec City on an NHL regulation rink 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. The size of the sheet favored the NHL for Rendezvous ’87 because the Soviets typically played on a 197 x 98.5 ice surface. While NHL players were used to the dimensions of the box, they weren’t necessarily used to each other. The Soviets had the advantage of team chemistry as a group that played together full-time instead of meeting as a short-term collection of individual talent.

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While the intensity of an international matchup is undoubtedly present, it differs from bloodbaths like the 1972 Summit Series where more than 80% of the NHL was made up of North American players. Finnish winger Jari Kurri opened the scoring with a goal assisted by his compatriot Esa Tikkanen and the great Wayne Gretzky. The NHL roster also included two Swedish players, Ulf Samuelsson and Tomas Sandstrom, and two Americans, Rod Langway and Chris Chelios.

With the score tied at 3-3 with less than two minutes left in regulation time in Game 1, Mario Lemieux entered the Soviet zone and shot low on goaltender Evgeny Belosheikin. Dave Poulin deflected the shot for the winning goal in a 4-3 draw.

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The Soviet Union responded with a 5-3 win in Game 2 to tie the two-game series. Sergei Makarov, Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov formed the line that gave the NHL adjustments. Krutov and Valeri Kamensky each buried a pair of goals during the series. An NHL Network feature then offered some perspective on the series split, boldly stating “The celebration of the game of hockey trumped any totals on the scoreboard.”

Hockey fans enjoyed watching Gretzky, who led all scorers with four points in the series, play on the same team as NHL legends like Lemieux, Raymond Bourque and Dale Hawerchuk. They got to see the NHL’s best players together in a uniform with a competitive edge against legitimate competition that challenged them to play at the top of their game. It’s unlikely that an NHL All-Star Game will ever recreate that kind of spectacle.

A hungry world for international Best-on-Best

The annual NHL All-Star Game is nothing compared to a historic international event like Rendez-vous ’87. Scheduling difficulties, the increasing competitive intensity of the NHL regular season with a 32-team field, and the needs of the NHLPA make it difficult for the league to host a spectacular and competitive event each year. in February. An event involving the Continental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia, the second-best professional league in the world, is also unlikely to materialize in modern times.

The NHL opted out of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, and complications surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to pull out of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. Fans will also miss the opportunity to watch the World Cup of Hockey in 2024, mainly due to the political ramifications surrounding the current situation in Russia. The NHL will continue to explore options.

Auston Matthews with the USA team (MARKKU ULANDER/AFP/Getty Images)

The world has been craving international hockey among the best since the end of the disappointing 2016 World Cup, and the NHL could afford to revisit its history and take a page from Marcel Aubut’s book. They’ve been hit hard by incredible hurdles in international competition over the past few years, but Rendez-vous 87 has become a success despite odds in circumstances beyond hockey.

The real international rivalry shifted away from East versus West as Russian and European players gradually became a standard feature of every NHL roster. The percentage of Canadian players in the NHL gradually declined, and Americans became a legitimate threat to Canadians in international competition. Homegrown talent in the United States has peaked, and North American rivalry is legitimate in both men’s and women’s games.

American stars like Auston Matthews (25) and Jack Eichel (26) reached their prime along with Canadian stars like Connor McDavid (26) and Nathan MacKinnon (27). Waiting for the possibility of an international tournament of the best against the best at the 2026 Winter Olympics would risk depriving hockey fans of a historically memorable game, and it could ruin the chances of aging national legends like Patrick Kane or Sidney. Crosby to compete for their country. in their twilight years.

If the World Cup isn’t going to become a reality, the NHL must assert itself as the global leader in the sport of hockey by creating a showpiece event that offers fans the opportunity to see the best international rivalry unfold in a competitive setting. . setting. The game’s history would not be as rich without the 1972 Summit Series or the memorable Canada Cups or Rendez-vous 87, and hockey will not reach the height of its potential as an entertainment product without a clash between the two North American powerhouses on the men’s side. The NHL must find a way.

Colin Newby is a freelance writer from Delaware County, Pennsylvania who covers the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He’s an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an amazing ability to churn out goalie stats from the 2004 Flyers and every Stanley Cup winner in his lifetime. The depth of his knowledge comes from having spent his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to forgotten companions like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. He joined the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in 2022.

Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.

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