PHT All-Star Time Machine: Gordie Howe’s fight, Sandis Ozolinsh trade

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at a couple of truly bizarre and strange NHL All-Star Game moments.

The NHL All-Star Game has taken on many forms throughout its existence. There is the current 3-on-3 divisional format that we have now. There was the short-lived by sometimes absurd fantasy draft spectacle. We also had more traditional conference vs. conference setup, and the sometimes easily forgotten North America vs. The World format that was held between 1998 and 2002.

Most of those formats have come over the past 25 years as the league has tried anything and everything to spice up a game that really hasn’t had much intrigue on the ice.

In the early days, the game had plenty of spice on its own and a format that was completely different from even any of the modern ones.

[Related: Gretzky to Lemieux, the ‘called shot’, and the ’97 NHL All-Star Game]

The NHL first started playing an annual All-Star game during the 1947-48 season and instead of featuring two teams of the league’s best players going against one another, it featured one team of All-Stars (comprised of the league’s end of season first-and second-team All-Stars that were voted on from the year before) competing against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

It was also played before the season, and not in the middle of it.

That format went mostly unchanged until the NHL expanded in 1967 with two exceptions — in 1951 and 1952 the NHL’s first and second team All-Stars from the previous year played against one another. When both of those games ended in a tie (which did not please fans), the league went back to the original All-Stars vs. Stanley Cup champions format.

Those games were interesting, and despite some early dominance from the All-Star side the Stanley Cup winners held their own against the league’s best by winning seven games of the 19 matchups, with three ties mixed in. They were also competitive and physical.

Fights sometimes happened

In today’s All-Star Game there is almost no physical contact, anything even resembling defense is basically frowned upon, penalties are almost unheard of and go years without happening, and the idea of two players actually dropping the gloves and fighting in one is completely preposterous.

But when we’re talking about 1940s and 1950s hockey we’re talking about an entirely different era of sports when players were just simply wired differently. Not better. Not worse. Just different. This game was taken seriously and was played more like an actual hockey game instead of an exhibition of skill and a celebration of the game’s best talent.

Players were sometimes out for blood. Literally.

In the second ever All-Star Game in 1948 (featuring the NHL All-Stars vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs) there was a doozy of a confrontation between Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe and rugged Maple Leafs defensemen Gus Mortson.

Howe’s style of play is well known and his name is synonymous with “old school hockey, but if you are unfamiliar with Mortson just consider that he was the second most penalized player in the NHL between 1946 and 1959 (the span of his career in the league) and was nicknamed “Old Hardrock.”

In the second period the two players squared off in wild fight that continued in the penalty box (there was only one penalty box at the time that both teams shared) until officials decided to have them serve their penalties on their respective benches just to separate them … in an All-Star game.

This was not the only actual fight in an All-Star Game.

A few years later in the 1953 game, a 3-1 win for the All-Stars over the Montreal Canadiens, Bert Olmstead and Red Kelly fought in a game that featured 11 penalties!

 

Eleven penalties!

The Sandis Ozolinsh game

Moving forward to a more recent generation, I think my favorite All-Star Game story might center around the 2003 game (the return of the conference vs. conference format following the North America vs. The World experiment) because of what happened with defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.

It is truly one of the most bonkers All-Star stories you will ever get.

The situation: The Florida Panthers were hosting the 2003 game and despite a down year on the ice had two representatives in the game, including Ozolinsh who was voted into the game as an Eastern Conference starter (Olli Jokinen was their other player in the game).

At the time, Ozolinsh was one of the NHL’s elite offensive defensemen and a bonafide All-Star due to his play with the puck. He was tremendous and received more votes than every player in the Eastern Conference that season except for Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux.

Keep all of this mind, because it is worth repeating: A team going nowhere that season, hosting the All-Star Game, with one of the starters voted into the lineup for what might have been one of the few highlights of the year. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Then, just two days before the game, the Panthers traded Ozolinsh to the Anaheim Ducks for a return that included Matt Cullen (who is still playing in the NHL today), Pavel Trnka, and a draft pick.

This, obviously, created an unbelievable storyline around the game. Just look at the sub-head from the Palm-Beach Post during the All-Star weekend.

Of course something like this involved Mike Keenan, who was coaching the Panthers at the time.

Once the trade was completed there was still the matter of what should happen with Ozolinsh who was now no longer a member of the Florida Panthers or the Eastern Conference.

Ozolinsh considered sitting out the game entirely but opted to play, but only after skipping the skills competition the previous night.

Again, from the Palm-Beach Post

 

The other factor in skipping the skills competition is that he would have had to have worn a team jersey, and since he was still a member of the Eastern Conference team and voted in as a member of the Panthers he would have had to have worn a Panthers jersey. He did not want to wear a jersey of a team he was no longer a part of. That was not an issue during the game when teams simply wore uniforms with the NHL emblem and not their team.

When Ozolinsh was introduced before the game he received a thunderous applause from the crowd and ended up playing more minutes than any other player in the game.

More fallout:

Adding to the mayhem was the fact that Ozolinsh and his wife had just closed on a house in Florida … the morning of the trade.

It the end, it ended up working out well for Ozolinsh as he went to Anaheim and played a huge role on a Ducks team that made a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

As for the Panthers and Iron Mike? They won 24 games that year and Keenan was fired 15 games into the 2003-04 season, ending what was a mostly disastrous run with the team over parts of three seasons.

Previous PHT Time Machines:
 Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

 Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
 The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks
• The Eric Lindros Trade That Did Not Happen
• The Mighty Ducks and the most insane pregame introduction ever
• When the Detroit Red Wings’ Russian Five was not celebrated
• Paul Holmgren’s crazy year of Philadelphia Flyers blockbusters
Remembering the Nassau Coliseum Santa Brawl

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

The team announced the news on social media.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

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BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

“Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

“This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

“This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

“We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

TRIBUTE

The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

“It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

FOR THE RECORD

Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

UP NEXT

Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.