January 24, 2011

Hockey's First All Star Game: Hod Stuart Memorial Game

Hockey's very first All Star game pre-dated on January 2nd, 1908, nine years before the NHL even existed, and nearly 40 years before the first official NHL All Star game.

Hockey's first all star game (it is believed to be the first all star game in any sport) pitted the stars of the Eastern Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA) against the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Wanderers. The game was to honour one of hockey's all time greats in a memorial match.

Hod Stuart, just 28 years old, died in the Bay of Quinte on June 23rd, 1907. He was one of hockey's best players, considered to be the best defensive player of his time, and had just helped the Montreal Wanderers to a Stanley Cup victory three months earlier. The Wanderers made him hockey's highest paid player when they signed him prior to that season.

Stuart was summering in the famed Bay of Quinte, enjoying the waters. However he made a fatal mistake of diving into the water off of the base of a lighthouse and into shallow water. He dove from about six feet above ground only to meet his demise when he landed head first into rocks beneath a couple of feet beneath dark waters. He was found submerged, his head cut open and his neck broken. He had died immediately upon impact.

The Montreal Gazette's obituary of Stuart is highly flattering:

"Stuart's work throughout the winter is well known here and requires little comment. He was the backbone of the team, and without him the Wanderers would have been lost. He was a real general of the game, he knew it thoroughly himself, and could play any position from forward to point, and he had the ability to impart what he knew to others. One feature won Stuart hosts of friends here in Montreal, and that was that in all the many hard games he took part in during the winter he played clean, gentlemanly hockey all the way through."

The memorial game was created to raise money for Stuart's widow and two children. 3,800 fans attended the game, raising more than $2000 for the family.

The Wanderers won the game 10-6. They jumped out to a 7-1 first half lead. The All Stars started clicking in the second half, scoring 5 unanswered goals.

The All Stars invited to play were Percy LeSueuer, Ron Kennedy, Frank Patrick, Joe Power, Grover Sargent, Eddie Hogan and Jack Marshall. Stuart's younger brother Bruce, a star down in the United States leagues at the time, was a special invite but he could not participate due to an injury. Jack Laviolette also could not play, allowing Patrick a roster spot.

The Wanderers line up included Riley Hern, Walter Smaill, Frank Glass, Ernie Russell, Cecil Blatchford, Ernie Johnson and, replacing Hod Stuart on defense, a young Art Ross.

Just how good was Hod Stuart? When the Hockey Hall of Fame was established in 1945, the powerful skating defenseman, the Bobby Orr of his era, was included as one of the 12 initial inductees. That tells you just how highly acclaimed he was.

By the way, Stuart worked with his father's construction company, often as a brick layer. He also spent the summer months playing rugby and football, briefly playing in the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Rough Riders. In his younger days he and Bruce were noted curlers, too.

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