On January 20, 1970, St. Louis hosted the 23rd NHL All-Star game. It seemed like just another game for show. However, there were a few firsts and lasts.
It was the first time the All-Stars came to St. Louis, and the arena had a record crowd of 16,587. This was only the fourth season since the big expansion gave the NHL the West Division and teams like the St. Louis Blues. As the coach of the host team, Scotty Bowman led the West Division All-Star team. He had hoped to show the closer parity between the new West and the established East since the teams had tied at the previous All-Star game. However, the East Division beat the West Division 4-1 instead. Worse still, the West had a record low of only 17 shots on net while the East jammed a record high of 44.
Naturally, the two All-Star team coaches had different views on the game. Claude Ruel, coach of the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens, led the East Division and commented, “When a man like Gordie Howe gives it everything, the other guys can’t do less. Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull and everybody gave it 125 per cent. They were so great. I’m not surprised the way they worked. I’m so proud of everyone. What they did for me! They gave me a helluva hockey game.” Bobby Hull joked, “That Ruel. He said all the right things – skate, check, shoot, get three men back. We couldn’t lose with help like that.” On the other hand, Bowman felt that Ruel did not let up even after he had a decent lead. Bowman looked ahead stating, “Next year, with the realignment of teams, (Chicago will join the West Division), we will have Hull and Stan Mikita. I just hope I can be there.” As it happens, he was.
In Bowman’s final year with the Blues, he coached the West Division at the 24th All-Star Game held on January 19, 1971. This was the first All-Star game hosted by Boston, so Bruins coach Harry Sinden led the East Division. As Bowman predicted, his team was packed with Blackhawks, and Bobby Hull scored the game winner and was named MVP (for the second year in a row). The West Division won 2-1. However, Bowman himself then switched from West to East by becoming coach for the Montreal Canadiens the next season.
Back at the 23rd annual game of 1970, both divisions set a record for the quickest scoring at an All-Star game. The East Division scored first 20 seconds into the game. Just 17 seconds later, Dean Prentice scored the only goal for the West, from outside the blue line. Ed Giacomin of the New York Rangers commented, “It was routine. I put my stick down with my glove behind it, but about four feet in front of me the puck hit an ice chip or something and hopped about a foot and a half in the air and into the net.” As planned, Tony Esposito took over for the second half of the game.
Two individual performances stood out – one in offense for the East and the other in defense for the West. In offense, Gordie Howe, in his 21st of 23 All-Star appearances, scored his final All-Star goal “on a power-play pass from Hull” at 7:20 in the first period. It happened to be the tie-breaker and game-winner. As his tenth goal, Howe remained the all-time All-Star goal leader until Wayne Gretzky scored his eleventh in 1991. The East scored two more goals (by (Walt Tkaczuk and Bobby Hull) on the West’s Bernie Parent (of the Philadelphia Flyers) during the second period.
Then, the West Division switched goalies, and Jacques Plante of the Blues blocked all comers for the rest of the game. Plante hadn’t started because Parent had been the one to blank the East the previous year. This time, Plante’s 20 saves set a one-period record for most saves in an All-Star game. That was despite having a pulled hamstring in his left leg and nearing the end of his career at age 41. Plante commented, “That’s probably the last one. I’m thankful I didn’t disgrace myself. I’ve never felt more pressure.” He was correct that his eighth appearance would be his last. Plante went out on top. Ron Ellis of the Maple Leafs described one save, “Plante was down. I had the whole top of the net to shoot at. But suddenly this leg flies up from out of nowhere and my shot hits it.” As Plante explained, “And then, too, every man on the East team fires the puck like a bullet. You can never relax.” As coach of the East Division, Ruel noted, “With a little luck, we could have won by 10 goals. Plante made it a game.” In the end, Plante said, “I can’t recall ever having a greater night.”
- Wally Cross, Plante, East Stars Shine,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 21 Jan. 1970, p. 1E.
- Bill Beck, “Howe’s ‘Everything’ Is Example for East,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 21 Jan. 1970, p. 3E.