TORONTO (AP) -- The NHL All-Star game has returned to where it all started. Even after 49 editions, there's plenty of room for first-time occurrences.
The celebration began in 1947 at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Yankee Stadium of the NHL. Now, for the 50th game, the Maple Leafs serve as hosts Sunday for the eighth time -- first at the year-old Air Canada Centre.
The most glaring first is that Wayne Gretzky will not play in the game for the first time since 1978. His 18-game streak is a record, one that will be matched once North America team captain Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins takes the ice.
''I miss it dearly,'' Gretzky said Friday night during a reception at his local restaurant. ''I wish I was playing Sunday.''
The native of Ontario, who retired from the New York Rangers after last season, will not be far from the festivities, however. His No. 99 jersey will officially be retired by the NHL in the same fashion baseball did with Jackie Robinson's No. 42.
''One of the biggest disappointments I went through last year when I retired was that I was not going to play in the All-Star game in Toronto,'' he said.
St. Louis goalie Roman Turek, selected Thursday in place of injured starter Dominik Hasek, also claimed his spot in the opening lineup Friday. Turek will be the first goalie to start the game in his All-Star debut since Toronto's Felix Potvin in 1994.
Injuries also sidelined Pierre Turgeon of the Blues and Colorado's Peter Forsberg, replaced by Ray Whitney of Florida and Patrik Elias from New Jersey.
Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom will serve as the World team captain.
Two rookies were chosen to play, for the first time in four years. Petr Buzek of the expansion Atlanta Thrashers will suit up for the World team, while New Jersey's Scott Gomez is on the North American squad.
Gomez, from Alaska, is the first Hispanic player in NHL history.
The 3-year-old format matching North America against the World, established when NHL players went to the 1998 Nagano Olympics, has drawn mixed feelings.
Mark Recchi, one of four Philadelphia Flyers selected to play World team, is not a fan of the format.
''There's obviously a lot more North Americans than there is World players, so I think some players that deserve it get left out a little bit,'' Recchi said.
Teammate John LeClair, who on Sunday might play on a line with Recchi and Flyers captain Eric Lindros, sees it differently.
''I think it adds a little more intensity to the game and it puts a little bit more on the line,'' LeClair said.
''I couldn't see how it would ever be a problem. I think it would just be a friendly ribbing,'' he added when asked if it's troublesome when teammates play for different All-Star teams.
All three agreed it would be ideal to play as linemates.
''We're going to have a blast up there,'' Lindros said. ''I have a pretty good idea what those guys are going to do. I'm just happy to be going and go out and have some fun. I've always played with John every year.''
The Flyers have even more representation as defenseman Eric Desjardins also was selected and coach Roger Nielson, currently battling cancer, will serve as the North American assistant in his second All-Star appearance.
Neilson, from Toronto, got his first NHL head coaching job from the Maple Leafs.
''I think it's great for Roger,'' LeClair said. ''He deserves it for all the time he's put into hockey, especially to go to Toronto like that -- his hometown -- hopefully will be a big thrill for him.''
The thrills begin tonight with the Heroes of Hockey taking on former Maple Leafs players in a pair of games. That will be followed by the skills competition, featuring the NHL's fastest skater, hardest shooter and top goalie.
Much is new but in this 50th All-Star game, the old Maple Leafs Gardens arena was not forgotten. Those who will play in the Heroes games, hit that historic ice again Friday to practice and scrimmage.
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