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On This Date in Sports January 31, 1984: All Stars in Jersey

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Hockey’s best players come to the swamps of New Jersey, as Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands hosts the 36th NHL All-Star Game. The Wales Conference gets off to a fast start jumping out to a 5-0 lead, and holds off a late charge from the Campbell Conference to record a 7-6 win. Don Maloney of the New York Rangers wins MVP honors with a goal and three assists.

The story heading into the NHL All-Star Game was the play of Wayne Gretzky, who had at least one point in his first 51 games to establish a new NHL record. Over this period, the Great One notched a mind-boggling 61 goals and 92 assists as his Edmonton Oilers went into the break with a record of 38-9-5. Two weeks earlier, Gretzky and the Oilers came into New Jersey to face the Devils and was booed throughout the game due to comments he made earlier in the season calling the Devils a “Mickey Mouse organization.”

Truth be told, at the time, the Devils were a Mickey Mouse franchise. In their second season in New Jersey, the Devils were locked in a battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins to see who could finish with the worst record in the NHL to earn the right to draft Mario Lemieux with the first overall pick. The Devils franchise was in their third incarnation in ten years, after failing to succeed in two seasons as the Kansas City Scouts and six years as the Colorado Rockies before becoming the Devils in 1982, with just one playoff appearance in that time. The low point may have been Gretzky’s snarky comments following a game on November 19, 1983, in Edmonton, that day the Devils were beaten by the Oilers 13-4, after scoring the game’s first two goals to fall to 2-18-0 on the season.

The game was well attended as it was the second-largest All-Star crowd in NHL history with nearly 19,000 on hand at the Meadowlands. Wayne Gretzky was booed once again at the start of the game as the Campbell Conference All-Stars featured six Oilers, not including Coach Glen Sather. Defenseman Joe Cirella and Chico Resch received the loudest reception, representing the Devils on the Wales Conference All-Star roster, led by Al Arbour of the four-time defending champion New York Islanders.

Cirella, really gave fans something to cheer midway through the first period, scoring the game’s first goal; the Wales Conference made it 2-0 less than a minute later when Captain Dennis Potvin from the Islanders netted a goal. The Wales Conference would dominate the first 20 minutes, racing out to a 5-0 lead on goals by Rick Middleton of the Boston Bruins, Mats Naslund of the Montreal Canadiens, and Pierre Larouche of the New York Rangers. Meanwhile, Bruins goalie Pete Peeters turned away all 13 shots from the Campbell Conference.

The Campbell Conference got on the board at 93 seconds in the second period as Denis Savard of the Chicago Black Hawks ended Peeters shutout efforts. The Campbell Conference would later get goals from Darcy Rota of the Vancouver Canucks and John Ogrodnick, who scored on a pass from his Detroit Red Wings teammate, Steve Yzerman, who, at 18, was the youngest player to play in an All-Star Game in NHL history. Midway through the second period, both teams changed goalies, with hometown favorite Glenn “Chico’ Resch replacing Pete Peeters, while Oilers star Grant Fuhr replaced Maury Bannerman of the Black Hawks. Both new goalies played well, as Larouche’s second goal of the game was the only tally before intermission as the Wales went into the final period with a 6-3 lead.

Chico Resch continued his strong play in the third period, as Rangers star Don Maloney, who had three assists earlier in the game, scored at the 7:24 mark to make it 7-3, with Devils defenseman Cirella credited with an assist. Less than a minute later, the Campbell Conference answered with a goal by Dave Babych of the Winnipeg Jets. A few minutes later, Wayne Gretzky, who had been shut down all game, scored much to the chagrin of many Devils fans sitting in their seats. The game, which had been wide open, would tighten up in the final five minutes, especially after Brian Bellows of the Minnesota North Stars scored to make it a one-goal game. However, it would not get any closer as the Wales Conference held to win 7-6.

The Oilers, with Wayne Gretzky scoring a league-high 87 goals with 118 assists, went on to end the Islanders dynasty, starting one of their own by winning their first Stanley Cup Championship. Meanwhile, the Devils posted the worst record in franchise history at 17-56-7, but it was not bad enough as the Penguins finished with three fewer points at 16-58-6 and drafted Mario Lemieux, who would save the franchise. In their draft, the Devils settled for Kirk Muller, with the second overall pick. Soon New Jersey would also begin turning things around as they made a run to the Conference Finals just four years later.