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Triple Crowning Moment for L.A.

Hockey: The last time All-Star game was here in 1981, Kings' famed line was there, but it wasn't spectacle it is today.

January 29, 2002|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the NHL brought its all-star game to Los Angeles for the first time on Feb. 10, 1981, local fans packed the Forum to capacity to honor the Kings' Triple Crown line of Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer. But not everyone was excited about the game.

KHJ-TV, the Kings' broadcast partner for television that season, passed on airing the game, choosing to stick to its usual Tuesday night lineup of game shows and old movies.

"We have a great hockey team, but people don't want to watch it," Charles Velona, then vice president and general manager of the station, said at the time. "We've put games on at various times--6 p.m., 10 a.m., 5 p.m.--but people don't want to view hockey."

That wasn't too surprising considering some of the big-name players didn't care enough to participate.

Montreal's Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson and Toronto's Borje Salming, all stars among the all-stars, scratched themselves from the game's lineup claiming various--and mysterious--physical ailments.

Lafleur, who had been in and out of Montreal's lineup because of several injuries, said he didn't feel he had played enough to warrant selection to the team. Robinson told reporters he had a low white blood cell count, and Salming said he had a sinus problem.

And even though all three played in weekend contests leading up to the All-Star game, they were backed by John Ziegler, then the NHL's president, who sniffed, "Their business is to play the regular season and the playoffs. The league shouldn't be put in position of saying, 'Well, you've got to play.'"

Nevertheless, the 16,005 fans at the game made sure it was a memorable night for hockey in Los Angeles.

"When they started the introductions, everyone was introduced separately," said King broadcaster Bob Miller, who did the play-by-play of the game for radio. "Then when the Triple Crown line skated out together, the place went crazy. That's what I will always remember."

The King line of Taylor, Dionne and Simmer, along with goaltender Mario Lessard, played for the Prince of Wales Conference team coached by Scotty Bowman, then general manager of the Buffalo Sabres.

For Bowman, the 1981 All-Star game was supposed to be his last as a coach. After stepping away from the bench to move to the Sabres' front office before the 1980-81 season, Bowman said, "this All-Star game will hopefully be the last game I coach."

Bowman, who will coach the World All-Star team on Saturday, may have been wrong about his pregame wishes in 1981 but he was right when it came to understanding the importance of making the NHL a success on the West Coast.

"Before the game, Scotty talked about this being a great opportunity to sell the game in Los Angeles," Taylor said. "He was really good for us."

For Dionne, the game held some personal significance. He had played for the victorious team in each of his five previous all-star appearances.

"Personally, I want to do well because the line is together and we're playing in L.A.," he told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. "We wanted this honor more than any other, and I want to make the most of it."

After the Triple Crown line was introduced and the game started, things did not work out for the four Kings in uniform. St. Louis goaltender Mike Liut earned player of the game honors with 25 saves in little more than a period and a half of work to lead the Campbell Conference to a 4-1 victory over the Wales team.

"Our line started slowly, probably because of the reaction we got during the introductions," Taylor said. "Once we got going, we had a lot of chances but none of us scored because Mike Liut played a great game. I know I had five or six great chances."

Fans got a chance to see a fast-paced game featuring skilled players such as Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy. Only two penalties were called and the game ended in just over two hours.

Although the Triple Crown line was handed a rare shutout, King fans enjoyed themselves by booing Philadelphia Coach Pat Quinn and the five Flyer players he had on the Campbell Conference roster. The Kings had recently played a roughhouse game against Philadelphia.

"The All-Star game back then wasn't as big as an event," Taylor said. "Now it is almost All-Star week. It has really grown. It's not just a showcase for the National Hockey League to show off the best players in the league anymore. There are so many other events leading up to the game. But it's still a great chance for players and fans to have fun."

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NHL All-Star game

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