On This Date in Sports February 5, 1980: Sunrise Sunset

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 It was an NHL All-Star Game for the ages, as it marked the debut of 19-year-old Wayne Gretzky and the curtain call for 51-year-old Gordie Howe. Both had been a part of the WHA’s final four teams being picked up by the NHL. Most fans at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit were there to see Howe, making his record 23rd All-Star Appearance with an assist as the Wales Conference beat the Campbell Conference 6-3.


The 32nd NHL All-Star Game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit marked a changing of the guard for hockey. After the NHL absorbed the WHA’s Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets, and Edmonton Oilers, the league now had 21 teams. 


The WHA additions had some bright new stars and some former NHL legends who had made a comeback with the rival league. This included Gordie Howe, who spent 25 years with the Detroit Red Wings, becoming the NHL’s All-Time leading scorer. After retiring in 1971, Howe sat out two years before returning to the ice to play in the WHA with his two sons Mark and Marty. The Howes later joined the New England Whalers and were on the Hartford Whalers when they jumped to the NHL. On the opposite end of the spectrum was Wayne Gretzky, who made his debut at the age of 17 with the Indianapolis Racers in 1978. He was later traded to the Edmonton Oilers and was a major focal point of the WHA merger. 


Al Arbour of the New York Islanders was behind the bench for the Campbell Conference. At the same time, Scotty Bowman, who recently left the Montreal Canadiens to take over the Buffalo Sabres, was the coach for the Wales Conference team. A record crowd of 21,002 was on hand at Joe Louis Arena for the All-Star showcase. The arena on Detroit’s riverfront had opened just five weeks earlier. During the pregame introductions, it was Gordie Howe getting the longest ovation, as the fans of Detroit still loved the man known as Mr. Hockey. 


The Wales Conference jumped out to a 2-0 in the first period, scoring twice in 21 seconds, with goals by Larry Robinson of the Montreal Canadiens and Steve Payne of the Minnesota North Stars lighting the lamp. The Campbell Conference would get a goal from Reggie Leach of the Philadelphia Flyers four minutes later. In the second period, Kent Nilsson of the Atlanta Flames scored to tie the game 2-2.  



The game remained tied until the third period when Brian Propp, on a pass from his Flyers teammate have the Campbell Conference a 3-2 lead. The Campbell Conference was still leading heading into the game’s final ten minutes when the Wales Conference sored in front with a barrage of scoring three goals in 92 seconds. The first goal came off the stick of Ron Stackhouse of the Pittsburgh Penguins to tie the game with 8:20 left. One minute late, the Wales Conference took the lead on a goal by Craig Hartsburg of the Minnesota North Stars. The insurance goal 32 seconds later when Reed Larson gave fans of the Red Wings something to cheer. With just under four minutes left, the Wales Conference closed out the scoring on a goal Real Cloutier of the Quebec Nordiques, a goal that was assisted by Gordie Howe. 


Although the Wales Conference recorded a 6-3 win, Reggie Leach of the Flyers who had a goal and an assist for the Campbell Conference was named the NHL All-Star Game MVP.