QUEBEC — This year, it's an NHL All-Star team--accent on team--and not a team of All-Stars.
Reason: the Soviets.
"We did not necessarily want an 'All-Star' team, we wanted a team with the right chemistry," said Cliff Fletcher, general manager of the Calgary Flames, who helped pick the players for the Rendez-Vous '87 series against the Soviet national team.
The NHL also wanted a team that had a chance of beating a formidable Soviet team Wednesday and Friday at the Nordiques' Le Colisee. Even the league knows it won't be easy.
"These guys play Saturday and Sunday night in their league games and will virtually have no workouts together before they meet the Russians," Hartford General Manager Emile Francis said. "It's the Russian national team and they'll have the advantage of playing together for so long."
To beat them, the NHL players "will have to forecheck very well in their own end, because that's where games are won and lost," Francis said.
"They'll have to cause a lot of turnovers, and they'll have a chance of winning them. But the Russians are more physical than they used to be and you're not going to run them out of the arena," he said.
Bob Pulford, coach and general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks, who was on the selection committee, said: "You must be able to skate against the Russians. Having very good skaters also went into the makeup of the team. You've got to have movement against them, go after them and be offensive, rather than sit back and worry about stopping them."
As a result, this year's All-Star lineup features cliques of players from certain teams--most notably Edmonton, with seven--and none from seven of the league's 21 teams.
"Because we're going to have very little practice time prior to the first game, we strongly believed that players who play together would be a great asset," Fletcher said, citing the Oilers' top line of center Wayne Gretzky, right wing Jari Kurri and left wing Esa Tikkanen as an example.
The other All-Star Oilers are center Mark Messier and right wing Glenn Anderson, who usually play together on their second line, defenseman Paul Coffey and goaltender Grant Fuhr.
Patrick Division-leading Philadelphia, with four, has the second-highest number of players on the All-Star roster. The Flyers are represented by center Dave Poulin, right wing Tim Kerr, defenseman Mark Howe and goaltender Ron Hextall.
The NHL wanted a tough team--and tough players.
"We felt we had to have some people who could check, rather than have all of them being just scorers," Pulford said. "Dave Poulin, Kirk Muller and Kevin Dineen are examples of this. They're hard-working and tough. We wanted lots of those. Of course, they're good hockey players, too."
Pulford said the committee of eight general managers charged with pulling together this team was "bothered a great deal" by leaving off players from so many teams.
"But our directive was to put together the best team possible and not necessarily someone from every team," he said. "It wasn't an easy job. There are probably some players that other people would have chosen."
One is Minnesota's Dino Ciccarelli, and his absence prompted an angry response from the North Stars.
"It's robbery," said Murray Oliver, the team's administrative assistant. "He deserves it more than Tomas Sandstrom" of the New York Rangers.
"We knew that some people wouldn't like the team," Pulford said. "But, it wasn't decided in 15 minutes. It was done with a great deal of thought."
For the second straight year, fans voted for the starting lineup. The other 27 players were selected by the NHL committee, which included Pulford and Tommy Ivan of the Blackhawks, Fletcher, Bill Torrey of the New York Islanders, Serge Savard of Montreal, Keith Allen of Philadelphia, Glen Sather of Edmonton and Scotty Bowman, the deposed general manager at Buffalo.
Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux outpolled Gretzky for the center position in the biggest surprise of the voting. Fans also selected Quebec's Michel Goulet at left wing, the Islanders' Mike Bossy at right wing, Coffey and Howe on defense, and Quebec's Clint Malarchuk in goal.
The others picked by the committee included, on defense, Boston's Ray Bourque, Montreal's Chris Chelios and Rick Green, Washington's Rod Langway, Buffalo's Mike Ramsey, Hartford's Ulf Samuelsson and Chicago's Doug Wilson.
On offense, the committee picked Winnipeg's Dale Hawerchuk at center and Montreal's Claude Lemieux and Sandstrom at right wing.