Goals, THE BEST ON ICE Cups, fights: Gordie Howe did it all

Mr. Hockey set the stan­dard for hockey great­ness

SundayXtra - - SPORTS -

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.

DARRYL DYCK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Gordie Howe meets mi­nor hockey play­ers while pos­ing for pho­to­graphs prior to a Van­cou­ver Gi­ants game in Van­cou­ver in 2013.

DAVID BIER / CLUB DE HOCKEY CANADIEN

Howe (left) chats with Mon­treal Cana­di­ens star Jean Béliveau be­fore a 1950s all- star game at the Mon­treal Fo­rum.

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