Even though the NHL All-Star Game seems to have lost a lot of its shine in recent history, it remains a major attraction that gives the league the opportunity to show off its biggest assets (or at least attempt to).
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And though they haven’t always had the most marquee players over the years, the Buffalo Sabres have a strong history with the event and have produced a number of memorable moments. As the hockey world descends upon Southern Florida this weekend, let’s take a look back at some of the times Sabres players stood out the most at the yearly spectacle.
1977- Rico Wins MVP
The Sabres took center stage at the 1977 All-Star Game held at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum. Goaltender Gerry Desjardins, defenseman Jim Schoenfeld and forwards Gilbert Perreault and Rick Martin (two-thirds of the French Connection) were selected to the Wales Conference’s lineup.
Perreault assisted on a Lanny McDonald goal in the second period that tied the game, 2-2. The score remained the same until Martin struck early in the third to make it 3-2. The Campbell Conference was able to knot the score at three and it appeared to be headed for overtime until Martin struck again with 1:56 left to make it 4-3. It proved to be the difference maker and the Wales Conference emerged victorious for the third year in a row. For his efforts, Martin was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
1978- The Stars Come To Buffalo
Martin’s heroics in Vancouver evidently caught the attention of the NHL and the Sabres were selected to host the event the very next season. The rosters for both conferences in 1978 were particularly stacked, as some of the biggest stars of that era descended upon the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, including Guy LaFleur, Denis Potvin, Bobby Clarke, and Marcel Dionne. The Sabres were not as well-represented this time, with just Perreault and Martin selected for the home team, but they stood out just as much and received deafening ovations from the Aud crowd.
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The game itself did not disappoint and proved to be one of the most entertaining incarnations to date. The Wales Conference had a hard time generating any kind of offense and were nearly shut out through the first two periods, thanks to the efforts of eventual MVP Billy Smith in goal. After Darryl Sittler finally got them on the board late in the second, Martin once again came up big and tied the game at two with 1:39 remaining in the third to force overtime for the first time in the history of the event. Then in the extra period, Perreault finished the job to send the Sabres fans in attendance home extra happy and give the Wales Conference the victory yet again. It remains one of the greatest moments in the storied history of the Aud.
1997- The Dominator Puts On A Show
Dominik Hasek dazzled at the 1996 All-Star Game in Boston and was reportedly named MVP but turned it down so that Bruins’ favorite Ray Bourque would receive the honor. The following year in San Jose, the Dominator took it to another level. Despite the Western Conference featuring some of the biggest snipers of the decade, including Pavel Bure, Paul Kariya, and Teemu Selanne, the goaltenders of the Eastern Conference stood tall as John Vanbeisbrouck and Martin Brodeur both shined. The Sabres’ backstop outdid them both, however.
Hasek came into the game for the third period and proceeded to put on a clinic. He stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced and made a number of highlight-reel saves in the process, with the loan tally he surrendered coming on the game’s most talked-about play. Owen Nolan skated in on a breakaway and “called his shot” by pointing to the top left corner and scoring exactly there to complete a hat-trick. It’s remembered as one of the greatest moments in the annals of the All-Star Game, but what seems to have been forgotten is how many times Hasek made him look stupid before that. The East won the game 11-7.
2007- All-Stars, All-Sabres
The Sabres were on full display 10 years later at the 2007 All-Star Game in Dallas amidst their memorable Presidents’ Trophy-winning campaign. Due to Buffalo having the best record in the conference, Lindy Ruff was named head coach of the Eastern squad while Ryan Miller, Brian Campbell, and Daniel Briere were all voted into the starting lineup by the fans. Additionally, Thomas Vanek was named to that year’s “Young Stars” showcase. It would be the last time the Sabres would have multiple All-Star representatives in the same event until 2019.
The West won the game, 12-9, but the Sabres’ representatives excelled. Miller allowed only three first-period goals (compared to Brodeur’s six in the second) while Briere scored the game’s opening goal and assisted on four others to tally the second-most points in a single All-Star Game ever to that point. He was named MVP for the impressive showing and was gifted a brand new Dodge SUV that he reportedly gave to his sister Guylaiane. It was a deserved honor for the Sabres co-captain in what proved to be his last season with the team.
2012- Pominville’s Homecoming
The 2012 All-Star Game in Ottawa was the second under a polarizing reimagining of the event. Instead of the classic East vs. West format, the NHL opted to capitalize on the growing popularity of fantasy sports by having two All-Star captains draft their teams for the game. Senators’ captain Daniel Alfredsson was one of the two captains and he made a surprising selection for his squad.
Jason Pominville was the Sabres representative and fans in Ottawa were already well-acquainted with him after his historic goal in the 2006 Eastern Conference Semi-Final that eliminated the Senators. Alfredsson, whom he danced around to score the goal, picked Pominville for his team and even acknowledged his disbelief in doing so. It was a funny moment for fans of both teams and was a full-circle moment for the Sabres’ captain, who recorded a goal and an assist in the game as Alfredsson’s team fell to Zdeno Chara’s, 12-9.
2015- The Latvian Locomotive
Unquestionably the most bizarre All-Star Game moment for the Sabres didn’t even occur on the ice. The 2014-15 season was a disaster for the team, but one glimmer of sunshine emerged in the form of Zemgus Girgensons. The second-year center turned in a career year despite the ineptitude of seemingly everyone around him. He was all but guaranteed to have been Buffalo’s representative for that season’s All-Star Game in Columbus (and just the third Latvian player to take part in the annual extravaganza), but what came next took everyone by surprise.
The leaderboard for the fan balloting for the game likely would have consisted entirely of Chicago Blackhawks players if not for Sabres fans, but they weren’t from Buffalo. Thanks to a viral campaign in his homeland, Girgensons received the most votes of any player by a significant margin – over 300,000 more than both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. It was a hilarious juxtaposition with the abysmal season the Sabres were having and made Girgensons an internet sensation among fans growing tired of the event’s ever-increasing gaudiness. He may have fallen from relevance since, but he’ll always be remembered as the guy who unwittingly hijacked an All-Star Game.
Dahlin Set To Rep Sabres In Florida
The Sabres might not be the NHL’s most notable team, but it goes to show that the team is familiar with the limelight, and that will continue this weekend. Despite controversially not being named to the game in spite of his outstanding numbers, Rasmus Dahlin is headed to the All-Star festivities for the second year in a row and will replace teammate Tage Thompson, who withdrew due to injury. Dahlin will be the only defenseman on the Atlantic Division’s roster.
The annual Skills Competition will be on Friday from the Florida Panthers’ FLA Live Arena and the game itself, which will once again follow the three-on-three tournament format, will follow on Saturday.