“His stamina, his strength and his natural ability made him the player that he was and I always had the feeling too, that he enjoyed playing the game so much. When you put all of those great ingredients together, that makes a superstar. He’s in a class by himself.”
– Montreal Canadiens Legend Jean Beliveau
In every professional sport, there are players whose skill, determination and passion for the game enables them to transcend their sport and become superstars. A select few achieve the next level. Gordie Howe is one of those athletes – Mr. Hockey is a Legend!
Born on March 31st, 1928, in Floral, Saskatchewan, Gordie Howe would play hockey professionally for an astounding 33 seasons over five decades. Making his professional debut at the age of 18 as a member of the Detroit Red Wings during the 1946-47 season, he would conclude his remarkable career in 1980 with his sons Mark and Marty by his side as a member of the Hartford Whalers.
As Gordie found his way through the rigors of life in the National Hockey League, scoring 7, 16, and 12 goals in his first three seasons, his prowess around the net began to emerge during his fourth year in the league. In that 1949-50 season, Gordie and his linemates, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay, also known asThe Production Line, led the league in scoring. By season’s end, his name would be engraved on the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career. He would add three more to his trophy case by the end of the 1955 season (1952, 1954 and 1955).
In a decade that included stars like Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Andy Bathgate, Alex Delvecchio, Abel, Lindsay and countless others, Gordie’s star shone the brightest in the 1950’s. He scored 376 goals and added 430 assists during that time. His 806 points was 249 more than the second-highest scorer, Gordie’s teammate, Ted Lindsay (557 points). The 1950’s would set the stage for a Hall of Fame career that would see him finish with 801 regular season goals and 1,850 points – the greatest career totals until a young man from Brantford, Ontario came along wearing double-nines in honour of Mr. Hockey.
Throughout the 1960’s, Gordie’s goal scoring abilities showed little sign of diminishing, as he added 317 more goals and 780 points to his career totals. In fact, in the 1968-69 season, he set a career high in the NHL for assists (59) and points (103) at the age of forty. By the end of the 1970-71 season though, it was time to retire – or so he thought.
With the emergence of the World Hockey Association, an opportunity arose that was too good to pass up – taking to the ice with his sons, Mark and Marty, as members of the Houston Aeros. At 45-years old, he was battling it out in the corners once again and finding the net with the same regularity as he did twenty years earlier. Helping to lead the Aeros to consecutive Avco Cups in 1974 and 1975, the Howe family would make a move to the New England Whalers in 1977, which paved the way for one more season in the NHL for the 1979-80 season.
A four-time Stanley Cup winner, the storied NHL championship has plenty of company in Gordie’s trophy case. During his illustrious career, he was a 21-time NHL All-Star, a six-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy (league scoring leader) and Hart Trophy (league MVP). Finishing among the top-five scorers in the NHL for a remarkable 20 consecutive seasons, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – his son Mark would follow him into the hallowed hall in 2011.
Statistically, there is no doubt that Gordie is one of the greatest hockey players in the history of the game, but there is more to his story than goals, assists, points and trophies. A loving husband to Colleen, a father and grandfather, a tireless volunteer and champion for the underdog, Gordie has helped countless individuals throughout his career and in his life after hockey. He is the definition of the phrase role model and as he celebrates his 85thbirthday, hockey fans around the world are saying the same thing, “Thank you Mr. Hockey!”
Andrew Rodger – NHL Alumni Writer