Goals, THE BEST ON ICE Cups, fights: Gordie Howe did it all
Mr. Hockey set the standard for hockey greatness
Nobody wins that fight forever. At 88, Mr. Hockey is finally gone, passing away Friday. You can debate whether he was the best to ever play the game. In Western Canada they’ll insist it was Gretzky and in Boston they’ll claim it was Orr, but here in Detroit it was, is and always will be Gordie.
Let’s face it. There’s a reason they called him Mr. Hockey, Mr. All Star, Mr. Everything. Who has nicknames like that? But then, who plays in five decades, who gets 23 All- Star selections, ALL throughout Friday, people were calling, scrambling, making statements and calling up stories. As the mountain of information and tributes grew, you realized it will be a long time before we put the totality of this man, born a year before the Great Depression, into perspective. Twenty-five seasons as a Red Wing? More games played with one team than any player in history?
“The Red Wings organization and the National Hockey League would not be what they are today without Gordie Howe,” Wings owner Mike Ilitch said in a statement.
That is true. I’ve already been asked many times, how he could play in today’s game, how he stacks up against today’s players.
You can’t compare. Suffice to say as a rookie, Gordie Howe did as much fighting as he did scoring, and he remained that tough throughout his career. Gretzky had tough guys protecting him all those years in Edmonton; Gordie protected himself — and his teammates. He once famously knocked out Rocket Richard with a single punch. As Shanahan noted, there’s a reason the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” stands for a goal, an assist and a fight. who scores 100 points when he’s 40 years old? Forty years old?
“Twenty straight years an All- Star, getting 100 points when nobody else could…” marvelled Scotty Bowman Friday morning. “I’m just honored to have met him and have known him.”
That’s from maybe the greatest coach in NHL history. It was Bowman who famously put Howe in the NHL All- Star Game at age 51, his last season of his comeback that started when he was 45. The game was played at Joe Louis Arena. His introduction was saved for last. The crowd rose even before the words hit the loudspeakers. As the only player with white hair skated to the line, you heard:
“And from the Hartford Whalers, representing all of hockey… Number 9.”
That was it. That was enough. No. 9. He will forever be that number. At least around here. He was a living statue, a monument to his own greatness, a name that became synonymous with doing it all.
“The first time I had a goal, an assist and a fight, one of the veterans said to me, ‘That’s a ‘Gordie Howe Hat Trick,’ “Brendan Shanahan recalled Friday morning. “I had never heard that expression before. What an unbelievable legacy to have that kind of a game named after you. It’s synonymous with the way he believed the game should be played. There was nothing that happened on the ice that he thought was someone else’s job.”
You can’t do that stuff today, so why compare eras? More important is what Ilitch suggests, there might not be the game of hockey as we know it without Gordie’s legacy. Certainly not around here. The four Stanley Cups Howe helped bring to the Red Wings in the 1950s — in a mere six years — established this franchise as an elite hockey organization; so much so, we always thought of it that way, even though it would be 42 years until the next Lord Stanley trophy.
Howe was behind that pedigree of greatness. Remember the seven straight years the Wings finished first overall with Howe leading the way? Seven straight years with the best record in the NHL? Never happened before. Not likely to happen again. And Howe’s place on the iconic Production Line was the forerunner of future famed Detroit groupings like the Russian Five or the Grind Line. None would compare. In 1949-50, Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay finished 1-2-3 in the scoring race!
Talking about Howe’s career is like that. The superlatives, the ridiculously impressive statistics. It’s like being in the treasure cave in the Hobbit. You can get lost in all that gold.
Gordie Howe meets minor hockey players while posing for photographs prior to a Vancouver Giants game in Vancouver in 2013.
Howe (left) chats with Montreal Canadiens star Jean Béliveau before a 1950s all- star game at the Montreal Forum.