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When we think of the All-Star Game now, we think of the best players in the NHL coming together for some round robin play, with a skills competition mixed in. The history of the All-Star Game is also a long one, dating back to the first official All-Star Game on Oct. 13, 1947 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
That wasn’t the first true All-Star Game in NHL history though. There was the game to benefit the family of Howie Morenz, who broke his leg in a game and died on March 8, 1937. Then there was the famous Ace Bailey game, played to benefit the player who had suffered a serious head injury on Dec. 12, 1933.
Usually, the first All-Star Game is cited as the Ace Bailey Benefit Game, but that is not the first All-Star Game. It is the first in NHL history, but not the first in hockey history.
For that, and for the topic of this episode, we have to go back to before the NHL even existed, to the 1907-08 ECAHA season, when the Hod Stuart Benefit All-Star Game was played on Jan. 2, 1908.
To begin, we first need to look at who exactly Hod Stuart was.
Hod Stuart was born on Feb. 20, 1879 and was a star athlete, playing for the Ottawa Rough Riders football team, but really excelling on the ice where he became one of the top players in the early history of hockey in Canada.
Stuart began his career with the Ottawa Hockey Club of the CAHL in 1898-99, remaining with the team for two years, before moving over to the Quebec Bulldogs for two seasons. He would then spend three seasons in the IPHL with the Calumet Miners and Pittsburgh Professionals.
An advocate for increased pay for players, he would negotiate a salary of $1,800 when he played for Calumet and Pittsburgh.
His career with Pittsburgh and Calumet was a bit odd. He played one season for Calumet and was then suspended from the league after teams complained he won too many championships. He would be reinstated two weeks later and played for the Pittsburgh Professionals. He then joined Calumet for one game to try and win another league championship. He then went back to the Pittsburgh Professionals for four games. He was released from the team over an odd occurrence. Pittsburgh refused to play a game in December 1906 because they claimed they did not like the choice of referee. Pittsburgh’s management blamed Stuart for this, and released him from the team.
During his three seasons in the league, Stuart had 30 goals and three assists in 47 games and routinely was rated the best defencemen in the league.
A clean player, known for his ability to keep his cool on the ice even as players played dirty around him, he became increasingly frustrated with the violence on the ice of the IPHL and he decided to move over to the Montreal Wanderers in 1906-07 now that he was released from the team.
The Montreal Star reported on Dec. 14, 1906, quote:
“Two weeks ago the Star announced that Hod Stuart, the greatest hockey player in the world, was going to play with the Wanderers. Today, the Star is in position to again make the assertion on the authority of Hod Stuart himself, who writes from Pittsburgh, I can get more money here, but I am coming to the Wanderers.”
On Dec. 27, 1906, he played in his first Stanley Cup game and on Dec. 29, he won his first Stanley Cup.
The violence continued on the ice in the ECAHA for Stuart, who was hit in the head by a stick from Alf Smith on Jan. 12, 1907. Stuart stayed composed and was commended for not retaliating.
Stuart remained with the team for the rest of the season, and was part of the Stanley Cup challenge that saw the Wanderers lose to the Kenora Thistle. Stuart and the Wanderers won the Cup back two months later, making Stuart a Stanley Cup champion once again.
After the championship, Stuart quit hockey and worked with his father in construction. He was routinely offered contracts to manage teams or to play again. One team in Peterborough offered what amounted to a railroad president’s salary for Stuart to join the team.
On June 23, 1907, Stuart was swimming near Belleville with friends when he swam to a nearby lighthouse and climbed onto a platform. He then dived head first into the water, hitting his head on rock, gashing his head and breaking his neck. He was killed instantly.
The Ottawa Journal reported quote:
“Reaching the building, he climbed up on the steps and then sprang from the railing. He alighted on his head on a pile of rocks three feet beneath the surface and never came up. His companions did not see him dive, but heard the splash, and thinking he was swimming under the water paid no attention for some time.”
It was nearly a half hour before his body was found at the bottom of the water.
The Ottawa Journal continues quote:
“The deceased had so impressed with his personality on all with whom he came in contact that he was universally respected and the family enjoys the respect and confidence of the citizens generally.”
Lester Patrick, his teammate with the Wanderers would say in 1936 quote:
“I was walking uptown, crossing Dominion Square, when I met somebody. I’ve forgotten who he was, but he stopped me and said Did you hear the news? I said what news. He told me Hod Stuart was dead. I couldn’t believe it. Hod had been like an elder brother to me. We were more than friends. He had taught me a lot about hockey and a lot about life. He had helped me to keep straight. I could hardly have been more deeply affected had a member of my own family been so suddenly taken. It broke me all up.”
The day of his funeral, his wife received a letter from him, sent the day before he died, telling her to bring the family to Belleville, where he had secured a home.
Over the course of his hockey career, Stuart had 53 goals and 11 assists in 93 games. He is generally considered one of the best, if not the best, hockey player of the first decade of the 1900s.
This brings us to the first All-Star Game.
To raise money for Stuart’s widow and two children, the ECAHA decided to hold the first All-Star game, ever played, in any sport.
The Hod Stuart Memorial Game was held on Jan. 2, 1908, with 3,800 fans attending. The tickets sold out days in advance, and the Westmount Arena owners agreed to host the event for no charge to ensure all money went to the family.
The Montreal Gazette reported quote:
“There was a good deal of uncertainty yesterday as to as to the make-up of the all star team that will face Wanderers in the Hod Stuart Memorial Match tonight.”
Many people from Ottawa would journey to Montreal to see the game, having been fans of Stuart, who was often found in their community.
The game featured the Montreal Wanderers playing against the top players of the other teams in the ECAHA. Fans were able to mail in choices for who they wanted to be on the All-Star team.
On the Wanderers, there was Riley Hern, Art Ross, Walter Smaill, Frank Glass, Ernie Russel, Cecil Blachford and Ernie Johnson. Of those players, Hern, Ross, Russell and Johnson would wind up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
On the All-Stars, there was Percy LeSueur, Rod Kennedy, Frank Patrick, Joe Power, Grover Sargent, Ed Hogan and Jack Marshall. On that team, LeSueur, Patrick and Marshall wound up in the Hall of Fame.
The Wanderers, who were used to playing together, dominated the game to start against the All-Stars who needed to find their footing with their new teammates.
The Wanderers led 7-1 after the first half of the game. The Montreal Gazette wrote quote:
“In the first half, it was all Wanderers. The Stars had not found their feet, suffering, just as might be expected, of a seven that had never played together before, from lack of familiarity with one another’s style of play.”
The All-Stars would battle back, losing 10-7 to the Wanderers.
The Ottawa Journal would report quote:
“The second half seemed a little more exciting in the beginning. Patrick and Kennedy changed about in the position of point and cover-point and the All-Star men worked harder than in the first half.”
Overall, the entire affair was highly successful and a great event to remember a legendary player.
The Manitoba Morning Free Press reported quote:
“The arena was packed to its fullest capacity tonight when the Wanderers defeated the All Star Team of the ECAHA by 10-7. The game, although nominally a friendly one, bore all the marks of a cup contest, but was clean throughout, only two players being penalized.”
The Montreal Gazette wrote quote:
“The whole hearted spirit with which the clubs, the rink, the players and the general public entered into the proposal for a memorial match for the family of the great cover point formed a splendid tribute to the esteem in which he was held on all sides.”
In all, the game raised $2,100 for the family of Stuart, amounting to about $75,000 today.
It would be nearly three decades before another All-Star game was played, this time to benefit Ace Bailey.
As for Stuart, in 1945 he was one of the first nine players to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Information from Macleans, Hockey Hall of Fame, Ottawa Journal, Wikipedia, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Star, Montreal Gazette, Manitoba Morning Free Press,