On This Date in Sports January 24, 1999: One Last Star for the Great One

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The All-Stars of the NHL come to the Sunshine State for the first time as the All-Star Game is played at the Ice Palace in Tampa. The NHL All-Stars from North America defeated the World All-Stars 8-5, as Wayne Gretzky of the New York Rangers is named the game’s MVP. It is the final All-Star Appearance for The Great One, who wins his third MVP Award.

The 49th All-Star Game in the NHL went south for the first All-Star Game played in Florida, with the Tampa Bay Lightning playing hosts. For the second straight season, the NHL goes with the World All-Stars of the NHL facing the All-Stars from the United States and Canada. With NHL players in the 1998 Olympics, the format was created for the game in Vancouver to help promote the upcoming Olympic Games in Nagano. The North American won a thriller 8-7, as the format was used again in 1999.

The night before the All-Star Game, the World All-Stars won the skills events, thanks to Slovakian Peter Bondra on the Washington Capitals winning the fastest skater contest and Latvian Arturs Irbe, playing for the Carolina Hurricanes taking the goaltending contest. Other winners in the Skills competition included Paul Kariya of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, winning the puck relay, and Al MacInnis of the St. Louis Blues, firing off the hardest shot. While there was a tie in the accuracy contest.

The North American All-Stars had a deucedly Canadian as just five of the 24 players chosen were from the United States. Ken Hitchcock of the Dallas Stars was selected to coach the North American team, as the Stars were the top team in the West. Lindy Ruff, coach of the Buffalo Sabres, who were in first place in the East, was behind the bench for the World All-Stars. Heading into the game, there was a sense it would be the final All-Star appearance for Wayne Gretzky, who was rumored to be considering retirement as he was named Captain for the North American team, and Pittsburgh Penguins star Jaromir Jagr representing the Czech Republic was the World Captain.

American Mike Modano from the Dallas Stars opened the scoring 4:09 into the first period. The World answered five minutes later when Germany’s Marco Sturm, a member of the San Jose Sharks, put one past Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. It would be the only goal allowed by Brodeur, who started and played the first period. North American got the lead back 24 seconds later as Luc Robitaille beat Dominik Hasek, the Czech star from the 1998 games, who had been behind the Sabres’ rise in the East. The North Americans later got goals from Paul Kariya and Mark Recchi from the Montreal Canadiens to hold a 4-1 lead at the first intermission. Wayne Gretzky was cheered every time he touched the puck and was credited with an assist on Recchi’s goal.

In the second period, it took just 17 seconds for the North Americans to add to their lead as Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins lit the lamp. One minute later, Wayne Gretzky gave the fans what they wanted most, scoring an All-Star goal to make the score 6-1. Finland’s Teemu Selanne, a member of the Mighty Ducks, at 2:02, to stop the North American momentum, as Arturs Irbe became the first goalie credited with an All-Star Game assist. Slovakian Pavol Demitra, a member of the Blues, scored to make it 6-3 at the 8:59 mark. However, it was clear which team was superior as Gretzky added a second assist on a goal from Kings Defenseman Rob Blake. With just under five minutes left in the second, the World would from Vancouver Canucks Defenseman Mattias Ohlund, a native of Sweden, beat Ottawa Senators Goal Ron Tugnutt as the second period ended with the North American team leading 7-4.

The third period would not see as much scoring, as Eddie Belfour of the Dallas Stars and Russian Nikolai Khabibulin, playing as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, each had strong performances. The World would get a goal from Toronto Maple Leafs Captain Mats Sundin from Sweden at the 2:57 mark. However, North America kept answering as Darryl Sydor scored at 4:02. Just 18 seconds later, his Dallas blue-line teammate scored one for the World as Sergei Zubov put one past Belfour. It would be the last goal scored in the game, as both goalies stood tall over the last 15 minutes, with North America skating away with an 8-6 win.

In the North American win, there had been 14 different goal scorers, with Mike Modano and Mats Sundin each registering a goal and three assists. However, when choosing the MVP, sentimentality won out as Wayne Gretzky playing his final NHL season with the Rangers, was selected the game’s MVP with a goal and two assists. Gretzky previously won the All-Star Game MVP as a member of the Oilers in the 1983 game played at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. Wayne Gretzky also won it was a member of the Los Angeles Kings in 1989 in a game played at Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum. It was the Great One’s third All-Star MVP award.