Hockey Greatness on Display at All-Star Game

By Kevin Fortier, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

The NHL All-Star Game takes place this Sunday afternoon. It is an exhibition of grace, strength and all-around athleticism.

For kids growing up who did not possess the abilities required to play the game of hockey, and for those who did, the All-Star Game was like watching titans or demigods on skates. 

Being able to watch your favorite team night after night and the star players whose names appeared on the roster was thrilling enough. But, once a year, to watch the best of the best the game of hockey has to offer is something on an entirely other level.

Just this week, I watched a replay of the 1980 All Star game. What an awe-inspiring event. One side showcased a 19-year-old Wayne Gretzky, and the other, 52-year-old Gordie Howe playing in his 23rd and final NHL All Star game. In between those titans of the sport, names like Mike Bossy, Guy Lafleur, Phil and Tony Espisito, Larry Robinson, Reggie Leach, Rick MacLeish, Marcel Dionne and so on. 

It was truly amazing to sit back and watch the incredible talent on display, hockey legends and pioneers who shaped the game and would eventually end up in the NHL Hall of Fame.

What a privilege it was to be able to watch a game from 37 years ago, a game that still inspires fans young and old alike knowing they were watching greatness on display. 

The game of hockey has changed substantially since that day, as has the format of the All-Star Game. I sincerely doubt that those players would have imagined that in 2017 the game would consist of three 20-minute games of 3-on-3 hockey or that the goalies would appear to be mountains of equipment nearly blocking out the entire goal crease.

In the 1980 game, the goalies pads were plain and roughly the width of their legs. The pads stopped barely above their knees. Above that, their bodies were mostly free of equipment. The goalies of today appear to be something out of a science fiction movie with massive pads and blockers all painted with bright colors and logos.

Many of the skaters at that time did not wear helmets either. You saw their faces and their long hair flowing as they skated up and down the ice surface.

A lot has changed since those days. A lot, except the love of the fans and the ability of the players to inspire as larger than life figures who, regardless of their regular season team, generate enthusiasm and passion within the fans as they watch the game they all love.

This weekend, fans across the country will be tuning in to watch the titans of hockey and cheering on their love of the game and rooting for players who they normally have to hate when they oppose their favorite team.

Not this weekend though. For one afternoon everyone can just cheer for the love of the game and for players matched up together for one afternoon. Traditionally, rivals, but like the World Cup or Olympic games, teammates displaying greatness for all to see.

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