|Gilbert Perreault played in nine All-Star Games throughout his 17-season career.
“The 1978 All-Star Game that was held in Buffalo was very special to me,” recalled Perreault, who spent his entire pro hockey career with the Buffalo Sabres. “When you are selected to play in an All-Star Game, it is always a great honor.
“But the one in 1978 was different for me. It was in Buffalo, where I played. It was held in Memorial Auditorium in front of all those Buffalo hockey fans.”
Perreault was joined for that 31st NHL All-Star Game by future Hall of Famers such as Yvan Cournoyer, Marcel Dionne, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, Lanny McDonald, Darryl Sittler, Bill Barber, Mike Bossy, Phil Esposito and Dennis Potvin, among others.
Perreault remembered the pregame introduction of the players in front of the sellout crowd of 16,433.
“When they introduce the lineups of both teams, they always save the players from the city the game is being played in until last,” stated Perreault, a native of Victoriaville, Quebec. “That year they saved the final introductions for Rick Martin and myself.
“Rick was introduced just before me. He got quite an ovation, as I expected he would.
“Then I could barely hear my name as I was introduced. As I skated on the ice the ovation was overwhelming.
“It was so loud and long.”
Jan. 24, 1978 marks the only time Buffalo has hosted the NHL All-Star Game. And the city rolled out the red carpet.
At the official League dinner, held the night before the game, two top performers at the time, singer Anne Murray and comedian Norm Crosby, entertained.
“The city of Buffalo really did a nice job hosting the event,” said Perreault, who skated for the Wales Conference squad. “Buffalo is a great hockey town and an event like this proved it.”
The Campbell Conference held a slim 2-1 lead late into the third period, although the Wales Conference had dominated play throughout the contest and eventually out-shot them for the game, 40-12.
With just 1:39 left in regulation, Martin scored to tie the game. For the first time in NHL history, an All-Star Game went into sudden-death overtime. Sabres fans were ecstatic.
It set the stage for a dramatic Hollywood-like finish to the game. With just 3:55 gone in overtime, Perreault skated down the ice, around the Campbell goal, and attempted to send a pass to linemate Steve Shutt in front of the net.
Perreault was shocked by what happened next.
“I was actually heading into the corner with the puck and just wanted to throw a pass out in front of the net for a deflection,” stated Perreault, now 57. “Instead the puck hit a skate of one of the players from the other team and deflected into the net (past Campbell goalie Wayne Stephenson of the Philadelphia Flyers) for a goal.
“I was surprised as anybody in the building when the puck went in. The goal was a lucky one.”
Perreault was equally surprised when the Most Valuable Player of the game was announced moments later.
“I was a bit surprised when we heard that Billy Smith won it for the losing team,” said Perreault, who was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 and has his No. 11 retired the same year by the Sabres. “Usually the MVP is somebody from the winning team.”
It should be noted that Smith had blanked the Wales Conference in goal for the first 30 minutes of the contest.
Like many others associated with that game, Perreault finds it hard to believe 30 years have passed since that All-Star Game was played in Buffalo.
“I have always said that it is a shame that Buffalo has never hosted another All-Star Game,” said Perreault, who today works part-time for the Sabres as a corporate and community relations liaison. “It is truly sad because Buffalo is such a great hockey city.
“Look at the job they did for the NHL Winter Classic that was held on New Year’s Day. They drew over 71,000 fans to Ralph Wilson Stadium and another 11,000 to HSBC Arena where they watched the game on the big screen.
“They did a great job. They have set the standard for all other NHL cities to follow.
“That’s why I think Buffalo could host another All-Star Game.”
Does Perreault have any mementos from the 1978 classic?
“I’ve got my sweater, that’s about all,” said Perreault. “I don’t have the puck. I don’t know what happened to that.”
Three decades later, Perreault still holds the '78 All-Star Game high on his list of memories.
“You just wanted to play well in front of your home fans,” he said. “And the fact that Rick and I were playing in front of Sabre fans was special to us.
“It was nice the way things ended for us in the game, with Rick and I scoring goals. It is something I’ll never forget.”