Today the NHL All-Star Game is seen as a lighthearted, potentially frivolous event sandwiched between the first and second halves of real, meaningful hockey. These exhibition games are loose and high-scoring; the league’s best, always dressed in bold new uniforms, have some fun and put on a show for the fans while avoiding injury.

But, what you might not know is that the very first NHL All-Star Game, held way back in February of 1934, actually came about as a fundraiser for a notable Maple Leafs player who suffered a life-threatening injury during a game earlier in the season against the rival Boston Bruins. Local Torontonian Irving “Ace” Bailey was actually on the St. Pats when Conn Smythe bought the team and transitioned into the "Maple Leafs" identity in 1926. Ace was a key figure in the these early years, leading the league in goals and overall points in 1928-29, and finding cup glory in '32. 

Back to that fateful game on December 12th, 1933. Toronto's Red Horner dazed Bruins' tough guy Eddie Shore with a heavy hit. Intent on revenge, Shore thought he was skating at Horner, but instead slammed into Ace Bailey. Bailey flew through the air and landed on his head, suffering a fractured skull. Shore himself was knocked unconscious in the melee that resulted. Both players were carried off the ice, where Shore regained consciousness. He was able to reach Bailey, who briefly came-to himself, and attempted to apologise. Bailey was able to respond with "it's all part of the game" before again passing out.

Bailey was rushed to hospital with a fractured skull, where neurosurgeons worked through the night to save his life. His injuries were so severe that doctors gave him only hours to live but, luckily, Ace survived – and recovered quickly enough to attend his benefit game two months later. His playing career, however, was sadly over.

Held in Toronto between the Maple Leafs and a team of the top players from the rest of the league, the benefit was held to raise money for Bailey and his family, but in the process, the first All-Star Game was born. The players were presented with their special jerseys by Frank Calder, Lester Patrick, Leaf officials and Ace Bailey himself. Goalie Charlie Gardiner stepped out first to receive his number 1 uniform, and was then followed by Shore, who wore number 2. The crowd of over 14,000 fans at Maple Leaf Gardens went silent as Shore skated up to Bailey. After a moment, Bailey extended his hand towards Shore, and the crowd erupted in loud cheering as the two shook hands.

That day Conn Smythe also declared that no other current or future players should wear bailey’s number 6, making it the first retired number in NHL and sports history! Bailey worked as a timekeeper at Maple Leaf Gardens for almost 50 years, from 1938 to 1984. On April 1, 1992, Bailey's number was re-retired by the Maple Leafs (in '68 Ace asked for it to be un-retired so Ron Ellis could wear it); that same day Bailey had a stroke, and he passed a week later at the age of 88.

Our new and exclusive vintage-jersey-inspired shirt draws from the diagonal-text sweaters worn for the benefit game, and features a super soft cotton with appliqué diagonal lettering and embroidered logo. Check them out here!

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