Hockey legend Gordie Howe dies at the age of 88

Gordie Howe played 22 seasons for the Detroit Red Wings and was a legend in the city and the sport of hockey.

Gordie Howe played 22 seasons for the Detroit Red Wings and was a legend in the city and the sport of hockey.

Gordon “Gordie” Howe, also known as Mr. Hockey by sports fans around the world, passed away today at the age of 88.

Howe was born on March 31, 1928 to Ab and Katherine Howe of Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada, one of 9 Howe children. He married Colleen, (aka Mrs. Hockey), in 1953 after he met her at a bowling alley when they were kids. They had three sons, Mark, Marty, and Murray. Colleen passed away in 2009. Together she and Gordie coordinated the first Junior A hockey team in the United States and they are to thank for the first indoor public ice rink in Michigan.

Gordie was invited to a tryout with the New York Rangers at the age of 15 but signed with the Detroit Red Wings the next year, in 1944. He debuted in the NHL at the ripe age of 18, in 1946 in the Original Six era of the NHL when the league only consisted of Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, New York, Chicago, and Boston. He scored a goal in his very first game while donning sweater #17. He later switched to his legendary #9 after Roy Conacher was shipped out to the Blackhawks. Howe did not actually want the number change until he was informed that the lower number would give him a better sleeping choice on the train trips that were customary during the era.

Howe was an amazing goalscorer but also one of the toughest players on the ice. The term “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” was named after him because it consisted of a goal, an assist, and a fight. All of these were big aspects of Gordie’s game. Ironically he only had two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks in his entire career.

Bobby Orr said of his first run in with the hard edged Gordie: “My first game, Gordie wanted to let the young kid know that he was still around. I made a pass and skated around the net and watched my pretty pass and he knocked me down. I can’t say I was surprised. I was just sitting there watching my pass. I had my head down and he drilled me. Surprised? No. I didn’t see him coming and it was a good lesson for me in this league. Later on, I had asked him about the hit, and in typical Gordie-fashion said, ‘It’s better to give than to receive.”

Howe was one of the greatest goal scorers of all time, and if there had been 82-game seasons through his entire career, no one would ever have come close to touching his scoring marks. He was the only player in the history of hockey to finish in the top five in scoring for 20 consecutive seasons. From 1949 to 1971 Howe scored at least 20 goals in 22 straight years, an NHL record that still stands.

Howe led the Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships in 1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955. During that era he made up one third of the famed Production Line featuring his linemates, Sid Abel and Terrible Ted Lindsay.

Howe’s career nearly came to an abrupt end in the 1950 playoffs when he suffered an injury that almost ended his life. He had his skull fractured by Ted Kennedy in the series against the Toronto Maple Leafs and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. Some thought he would never return to the same level of play that fans were accustomed to, but Howe proved them wrong when he put up 86 points the following season. He blew away the second place scorer by 20 points. Just another season of greatness for Mr. Hockey.

Throughout the 1950s Howe had an intense rivalry with Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens, another man wearing a number 9 on his sweater. Gordie and The Rocket were usually first or second in the scoring race. Although Maurice was the first NHL player to score 50 goals, he was not ashamed to admit that Gordie Howe was the greatest player of all time upon his retirement saying, “Gordie could do everything.”

Henri Richard, Maurice Richard’s brother and teammate said, “I remember the first time I played against Gordie, I got an elbow in the face. He was just a great hockey player, he just wanted to win and that was part of the game. Everybody has his own way to play the game, and he was a little dirty, but just a great hockey player. I hated playing against him because he was too tough.”

When expansion hit the NHL for the 1967-68 season and the league doubled to 12 teams, Howe was paired on a line with Frank Mahovlich and Alex Delvecchio. As a testament to his greatness, everyone that ever played on a line with Gordie Howe as a Red Wing became a Detroit legend. In the second year of expansion in 1968, Howe topped 100 points for the only time in his career. He racked up an astonishing 44 goals and 59 helpers that season.

After a wrist injury a few years later, Gordie opted to retire from the NHL to take a front office job with the Red Wings in 1971. He held the position for two years before admitting that it bored him to death. At the age of 45, Howe decided he had to get back into the game and he joined the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association in what many thought was a publicity stunt because he signed on the same team as his sons Mark and Marty. It couldn’t have been all for PR sake because Gordie and his boys led the Aeros to two WHA championships.

Mr. Hockey and his two sons joined the New England Whalers in 1977. A few years later that Whalers team was absorbed by the NHL and there Gordie was, playing again in the NHL at the age of 51. The 1979-80 NHL All Star Game was played in the newly built Joe Louis Arena and when Howe was selected to the team by Scotty Bowman, his pre-game introduction in front of the crowd in Detroit was met with thunderous applause and emotion. The Detroit crowd stood on their feet applauding the man who single-handedly carried the tradition of hockey greatness in Detroit for more than two decades.

Howe was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, was a 23-time NHL All Star, four-time Stanley Cup Champion, six-time Art Ross Trophy winner, six-time Hart Trophy winner, and considered by many, including Wayne Gretzky, to be the greatest hockey player of all time. Gordie closed out his NHL career with 1,850 points, including 801 goals and 1,049 assists. If you combine his WHA stats with his NHL stats, Howe is the all-time leading scorer by miles, not just third place. A statue of his likeness at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is a favorite destination for fans in “Hockeytown.”

Howe is remembered as a scorer, a tough son of a gun, a great father, and a great husband. But to hockey fans everywhere, he will never be anything but Mr. Hockey.