With as many groundbreaking achievements populating his broadcast resume, it would be all but impossible to isolate just one as the pinnacle of a Hall of Fame career. But in his autobiography, 'Foster Hewitt: His Own Story', Hewitt was asked this exact question. After deliberation, and weighing the final choice over the 1955 World Championship, the legendary broadcaster selected as the highlight of his broadcast career, a hockey game played at Maple Leaf Gardens on February 14, 1934.
|The famous handshake between Ace Bailey (left) and Eddie Shore (right) highlighted the historic night regarded as the first NHL All-Star Game and the Pinnacle of Hewitt's broadcasting career.
"On the night of February 14, 1934, an Ace Bailey Benefit Game was staged in Maple Leaf Gardens. One of the teams, of course, comprised the stricken Bailey's teammates: Toronto Maple Leafs. The other team included the stars of all other National Hockey League clubs and they were so talented that more than half of them were later honoured in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"The match was arranged with some apprehension. Should (Eddie) Shore be included on the All-Star team? (Shore had been involved in an on-ice incident in December 1933 that resulted in Ace Bailey requiring brain surgery, which ended his hockey-playing career).
How would the crowd react to his presence? Would hisses, boos and even physical abuse be heaped upon the great Boston defenceman? Would it be appropriate for Shore and Bailey even to meet?
"I was personally quite concerned about the project, for I was well aware that crowds can be easily swayed and that the event could become quite ugly.
"I shared in the programme, for it was my duty to introduce each player, who then advanced to receive from Ace Bailey a special medal commemorating the occasion, together with an attractive windbreaker, the gift of the Toronto club.
"I first introduced Charlie Gardiner, the All-Star goalkeeper. When he had advanced, received his tokens and retired, the crucial moment arrived. I then announced, 'Eddie Shore, Boston Bruins.' A few cheers started as Shore slowly skated from the line of stars towards Bailey. Then, the burly Shore, now wearing a helmet, extended his ungloved hand to Ace. Bailey leaned forward to grasp it and, for a brief moment, Shore spoke softly to Ace. The latter nodded, then broadly smiled. Shore turned to leave with his gifts, then ambled back to make another friendly remark as photographers pictured the pair while shaking hands.
"Shore skated back into line but, during the entire meeting of the pair, the spectators roared their approval in one continuing chant of appreciation. Throughout the entire introduction, not a single disapproving voice was heard in a capacity crowd that exceeded fourteen thousand.
"Later, Conn Smythe induced another round of cheers when he addressed Ace Bailey and said, 'Ace, allow me to present this sweater that you have worn so long and so nobly for the Maple Leafs. No other player on a Maple Leaf hockey team will ever wear number six."
The historic night is regarded as the first NHL All-Star Game, and a night when humility triumphed over hostility. And in the pantheon of hockey events, the Ace Bailey Benefit Game ranked as the pinnacle of Foster Hewitt's broadcasting career.
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and On-Line Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.