Gretzky to Lemieux, Nolan’s ‘called shot,’ space pucks: Remembering the ’97 NHL All-Star Game

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As the hockey world decends on San Jose this weekend for the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, there will be plenty of remembrances of the first time the Sharks hosted the midseason festivities back in 1997. This is one of them.

San Jose was supposed to host the 1995 NHL All-Star Game but a pesky little lockout put an end to the city’s hopes of welcoming the league’s top stars for a weekend. 

But two years later, a work stoppage-free season saw the NHL name the Sharks as hosts of the midseason event. And since it was taking place near Silicon Valley, there was a lot of looking to the future. The league will be announcing their player and puck tracking plans this weekend, which will give fans and teams much more information about the game than they’ve ever had before. 

Back in the mid-’90s we had the FOX Trax puck. That was about as far out as it got.

A futuristic feel

Since the game was broadcast on FOX in the U.S., that meant the glow puck was used during the broadcast. Now, FOX was known for using quirky animations and graphics that were very fitting for the 1990’s. But this intro, narrated by NBC’s own Mike Emrick, was something else. It was real heavy on Star Trek and left us wondering why Teemu Selanne drove a cardboard cutout of Captain Kirk into the boards? All because he hung out with Wayne and the gang with the Eastern Conference?

The puck drop from space

Before the actual game began, a ceremonial puck drop was held. This wasn’t any ceremonial puck drop. This one was out of this world as astronauts from the space shuttle Columbia dropped the puck from way up above Earth down to Sharks mascot SJ Sharkie, who then presented it so Chris Chelios and Wayne Gretzky could get on with the show.

Granato’s emotional first All-Star Game

Tony Granato was one of two Sharks representing the Western Conference due to being a special selection as named by Commissioner Gary Bettman. He was one of the starters in the game, taking an injured Joe Sakic’s spot, and took the opening faceoff against former Los Angeles Kings teammate and good friend Wayne Gretzky.

It was a great gesture as the previous January Granato had to be rushed to a hospital after attending a Super Bowl party at Gretzky’s home. After crashing into the boards while diving for a puck a few days earlier, the 32-year-old forward needed emergency brain surgery. He had played the next game but complained of headaches and doctor’s found a blood clot in his brain.

After undergoing four hours of surgery, he missed the remainder of the season, and after a bit of a wait in free agency, signed with the Sharks that August. Later that year he would be named the winner of the Masterton Trophy.

“A year ago I didn’t even care if I played hockey again,” Granato said. “So all this stuff that’s happened this year, I just take as a bonus. To be able to come back and do something you love to do so much when you thought it was all over is a great thrill.”

Gretzky to Lemieux, Part II

The ’97 Game was the first time that Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were teammates since the legendary 1987 Canada Cup, when the Great One fed a pass to Le Manifique for the winning goal against the Soviet Union in Game 3 of the Final. This was also Lemieux’s final All-Star Game before his first retirement after the 1996-97 season.

It only took 10 minutes into the first period for the two hockey greats to connect on a goal — one that beat fellow legend Patrick Roy to give the Eastern Conference a 2-0 lead.

The Called Shot

The East may have won the game and Mark Recchi may have taken home MVP honors with a hat trick, but the real memories were provided by Owen Nolan. The Sharks forward set an All-Star Game record by scoring twice in eight seconds late in the second period to set up a third period duel with Dominik Hasek.

After the Dominator denied Nolan a hat trick several times in the final frame, he was finally rewarded with 2:03 left in the game in memorable fashion.

Hasek had no idea about the famous moment until after the game. The Buffalo Sabres netminder was focused on the puck, not the point.

“That was definitely not designed. It was spontaneous,” Nolan told David Pollack of The Athletic recently.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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