Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Forgotten All-Star Game

The NHL All-Star Game has been a fixture on the NHL schedule almost every year since 1947 (with exceptions in 1979 and 1987 when NHL All-Stars played the Soviet national team in the Challenge Cup and Rendez-vous '87 instead, 2006, 2010 and this year due to the Olympics, and 1995, 2005 and 2013 due to… labour problems). The game owes its existence to a game played on February 14, 1934. On that day a team of NHL All-Stars played the Toronto Maple Leafs in an exhibition. The financial proceeds from the game were gifted to Maple Leafs' forward Ace Bailey, who was critically injured in a game a couple months earlier. He would recover from his injuries and live to the ripe old age of 88 but he never played pro hockey again.

The NHL played a couple more benefit games before it began playing an annual game: in 1937 Habs star Howie Morenz died after breaking his leg, and so the NHL played a 'memorial' game on November 3 to benefit Morenz's family. In the summer of 1939 Babe Siebert drowned in Lake Huron, and on October 29 a benefit game was played for his family between a team of Montreal All-Stars (players from the Canadiens and Maroons) and an NHL All-Star team of players from the other six teams.

There was another such benefit game played on February 17, 1959, but you've probably never heard of it. That's why I call it the forgotten All-Star Game. It was Bill Dobbyn Night.

"Who is Bill Dobbyn?" you ask. He was a hockey player but never played a game in the NHL. He never got the chance.

Bill Dobbyn was born in Melita, Manitoba in the summer of 1935. He grew up to play junior hockey in the SJHL for the Flin Flon Bombers. He won two league championships with the Bombers in 1953 and 1954. He made the transition to professional hockey in 1955, spending his first two seasons of pro hockey in Victoria, BC playing for the Western Hockey League's Cougars. In 1957 he took his services across the Georgia Strait to Vancouver and played for the Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks were the class of the WHL that year and Dobbyn had a decent regular season (10 goals and 20 assists in 70 games), but it was in the playoffs in 1958 that Dobbyn really shined. He scored three goals and five assists in 11 games that spring, including two of the most important goals in Canucks history up to that point.

The day was April 30, 1958 and the venue was the Stampede Corral, home of the Calgary Stampeders hockey club. The Canucks and Stamps were playing for the President's Cup, the WHL championship, and the Canucks were up 3-0 in their best-of-seven series. The game began with a wild first period; each team tallied four times in the opening 14 minutes and 14 seconds. After that the play settled down and the scoring was tight. Calgary's Sid Finney (who finished third in regular season scoring with 88 points in 58 games, behind the Canucks' Phil Maloney's 94 points and Seattle's Guyle Fielder's 111) scored at 10:58 of the second period to put the Stampeders up 5-4 and it looked like they were going to hold on to force a fifth game in Vancouver.

That was until the Stampeders' Merve Kuryluk took a hooking penalty about midway through the third period. On the powerplay the Canucks peppered Stamps' goalie Al Rollins with shots and Bill Dobbyn pounced on a rebound off a shot by teammate Jackie McLeod and buried the puck in the net to tie the game. This game was going to overtime.

At 3:47 of OT rookie Orland Kurtenbach passed the puck to Dobbyn and Dobbyn secured his place in Vancouver Canucks lore when he scored again. 6-5 Canucks. President's Cup champions (the first of four such championships until the Canucks made the jump to the NHL in 1970). Dobbyn scored the game-tying and game-winning goals.

Dobbyn signed a contract with the New York Rangers on September 22, 1958 (the same day the Rangers signed two other WHL players: Les Colwill and Earl Ingarfield) and he attended their training camp but he didn't quite make it to the big league. He showed a lot of promise though and was placed on the top farm team in Buffalo. It was playing for the AHL's Bisons that Dobbyn's pro hockey career would come to a catastrophic halt.

In the third period of a game in Hershey between the Bears and Bisons on December 27, 1958 Dobbyn went into a corner to battle for the puck. Bears' captain Ellard "Obie" O'Brien was battling with Dobbyn for the puck and his stick was errantly swung high and hit Dobbyn in his left eye. The damage was so severe doctors decided that the eye could not be saved, and so it was removed. And that was seemingly that for Bill Dobbyn. He was only 23 years old.

The following month Red Wings GM Jack Adams, having read about the tragedy, decided to organize a benefit game for Dobbyn and his family. He convinced the other NHL teams to each send a small contingent of players to play for an all-star team against the Buffalo Bisons at The Aud. Slowly but surely support for the idea grew and by February everybody was on-board.

Bill Dobbyn Night, February 17, 1959, was a great success. A sell-out crowd of 9,368 packed the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium to watch the game between the Bisons and the NHL All-Stars. AHL president Dick Canning was there. Buffalo mayor Frank Sedita dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off. Everyone from Canning and Sedita down to the ticket-takers, ushers, concessions vendors and members of the press paid for their tickets instead of accepting the usual passes, all in the hopes of raising money for Bill Dobbyn.

At the second intermission Dobbyn received proceeds of about $25,000 (minus taxes, of course). The Bisons lost the game but they finished atop the AHL's regular season standings in 1959. Unfortunately for them they lost the Calder Cup championship to the Hershey Bears.

Determined to continue playing hockey Dobbyn moved to Europe, playing for Steatham of the British National League in 1959-60, Langnau of the Swiss National League B in 1960-61 and Vienna of the Austrian League in 1961-62; he won league championships with each. After he returned to North America he moved to Waterloo, Iowa and played for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL. The Black Hawks won five straight championships in the '60s, from '64 to '68.

Bill Dobbyn coached the Black Hawks in 1971-72 and has been involved with hockey in Waterloo, Iowa in some capacity ever since.

The AHL mandated that all players must wear visors beginning in 2006, almost 48 years after Bill Dobbyn lost his eye. The NHL enacted a rule mandating visors for all players with less than 25 games of NHL experience as of the beginning of the 2013-14 season.

Buffalo BisonsNHL All-Stars
Marcel PailleJohnny Bower (Maple Leafs)
Bruce Gamble (Rangers)
Glenn Hall (Black Hawks)
Doug BarkleyIan Cushenan (Canadiens)
Ron IngramFern Flaman (Bruins)
Ivan IrwinLou Fontinato (Rangers)
Frank MartinBill Gadsby (Rangers)
Gus MortsonWarren Godfrey (Red Wings)
Albert "Junior" Langlois (Canadiens)
Pierre Pilote (Black Hawks)
Bruce ClineAndy Bathgate (Rangers)
Billy DeaJohnny Bucyk (Bruins)
Bill DineenBrian Cullen (Maple Leafs)
Gerry FoleyBobby Hull (Black Hawks)
Dick GambleEarl Ingarfield (Rangers)
Wally HergesheimerForbes Kennedy (Red Wings)
Eddie KachurTed Lindsay (Black Hawks)
Orland KurtenbachEddie Litzenberger (Black Hawks)
Parker MacDonaldDon Marshall (Canadiens)
Bill SweeneyDon McKenney (Bruins)
Larry WilsonBert Olmstead (Maple Leafs)
Ron Stewart (Maple Leafs)
Jerry Toppazzini (Bruins)

NHL All-Stars 6 at Buffalo Bisons 2
Bill Dobbyn Night—February 17, 1959

First Period
NHL – Lindsay (Litzenberger) 1:11
NHL – Bathgate (Ingarfield, Olmstead) 5:30
NHL – Cullen (Bathgate, Olmstead) 12:28
Penalties: Wilson (Buffalo; tripping) 8:24, Toppazzini (NHL; tripping) 17:46, Langlois (NHL; holding) 17:46

Second Period
NHL – Lindsay (Litzenberger, Hull) 6:48
NHL – Olmstead (Cullen) 11:51
NHL – Langlois (Toppazzini, Cushenan) 18:00
Penalties: none

Third Period
Buffalo – Dineen (Mortson, MacDonald) 4:31
Buffalo – Dineen (Irwin) 19:06
Penalties: none

Shots on goal
NHL All-Stars: 10 18 12 – 40
Buffalo Bisons: 8 7 10 – 25
Referee: Eddie Powers
Linesmen: Bob Barnes and Jack Bell
Attendance: 9,368 at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium

Bilych, George. (1958, May 1). "Canucks claim western puck crown: Dobbyn scoring hero". Calgary Herald, p. 42.


  1. I really enjoyed this story as Bill Dobbyn is my nephew. His mother was my father’s daughter. ( two marriages)

  2. Glad you enjoyed my recounting of Bill's story, Nora. It was a story I happened upon long ago whilst doing other research, and it struck kind of close to home.

    One of my grandfathers played goalie and skated occasionally with the Stampeders in the early '50s. They never played with masks in those days, of course, and minimal padding elsewhere as compared to today. Grandpa 'retired' from hockey (he never actually played professionally) in his early 20s after having lost all of his teeth and, in an awful incident due to a shot that hit him in the groin, a gonad... After that my newlywed grandmother convinced him to give it up, lest he lose anything else playing hockey.

    I'm being a bit glib, but I'm not sure who ended up worse off: my grandpa or Bill!



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