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"Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe dies at 88

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  • "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe dies at 88

    Hockey icon Gordie Howe dies at 88
    Hockey legend Gordie Howe died Friday, the Detroit Red Wings have confirmed. He was 88.

    Howe, who was known as Mr. Hockey, holds NHL records for most games (1,767) and seasons (26). His 801 career goals rank second to Wayne Gretzky's 894.

    The Hall of Famer played on four Stanley Cup championship teams in Detroit during a 25-year stint that began in 1946. He retired from hockey for good when he was 52.

    Recent years had been challenging for Howe.

    Memory loss from the early stages of dementia became a problem even before his wife, Colleen, died in 2009 after battling Pick's disease, a rare form of dementia similar to Alzheimer's.

    Howe suffered two disabling strokes in October 2014. His family said his health has improved after he underwent a stem-cell treatment as part of a clinical trial in Mexico.

    Howe, one of nine siblings, was actually born in Floral, Saskatchewan, a tiny community just southeast of Saskatoon. The family moved to the city when he was an infant.

    ESPN Achives: He just kept going and going and ...
    By Larry Schwartz|Special to
    Durability, thy name is Gordie Howe. In his tenure as a professional hockey player, he skated right wing through the presidencies of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

    He outlasted the Energizer bunny, playing for a remarkable 32 years. At the age of 51, when he should have been sipping beer on his front porch, he was still skating a regular shift in the NHL.

    Not even more than 300 stitches, damaged knee cartilage, broken ribs, a broken wrist, several broken toes, a dislocated shoulder, an assortment of scalp wounds, a painful ankle injury and a near-brush with death could derail his date with destiny. And to think, growing up he thought he "would have been happy to play just one season."

    By playing as long as Howe did, one is bound to put up incredible numbers. His stats (World Hockey Association included), counting the playoffs: In 2,421 games, 1,071 goals, 1,518 assists, 2,589 points and 2,418 penalty minutes. He held NHL records of 801 goals (regular season only) and 1,850 points until Wayne Gretzky came long.

    And besides the endurance, there was the ability and determination that enabled Howe to win six MVPs and six scoring championships with the Detroit Red Wings.

    Howe had a thick neck, sloping shoulders and exceptionally strong wrists. In his time -- since it was such a long time, let's narrow it to the decades of the '50s and '60s -- he was described by coaches as the smartest player, the finest passer, the best play-maker and the ablest puck-carrier in the game. The 6-foot, 204-pounder was also tough and aggressive.

    But he took the latter qualities a step further in his drive never to be beaten. He was known to be vicious and mean, a punishing artist with a stick that was used for more than scoring goals. And he didn't get the nickname "Mr. Elbows" from opponents for nothing.

    Howe was born March 31, 1928 in a farm home near Floral, Saskatchewan, the sixth of nine children. While an infant, the family moved 10 miles or so to Saskatoon, where Howe grew up and learned to play hockey. He started skating at age 4, and when he was 9 he started playing in an organized league.

    "He was hockey, hockey, hockey all the time, even in July when he used to break shingles off the house practicing shooting both right- and left-handed," his mother Katherine said.

    He wasn't much of a student, failing the third grade twice. But the quiet kid was a heck of a hockey player. He started out as a goalie, moved to defense and then settled in at forward.

    Though he was big and awkward, he could score. At 15, he attended the Rangers' tryout camp in Winnipeg, but it didn't work out. The next year, a Red Wings scout discovered him and sent him to the team's training camp in Windsor, Ontario. Two seasons later, at the age of 18, Howe was playing in the NHL. On Oct. 16, 1946, in his first game, Howe scored the first of 975 regular-season goals.

    In his first three years, seemingly more intent on fighting than scoring, Howe managed a total of just 35 goals. He wouldn't get fewer than 20 in a season again until three decades later. After being advised that he would be better served to stop trying to beat up everybody, the ambidextrous shooter scored 35 goals in 1949-50, second in the NHL to Rocket Richard's 43. The Production Line of left wing Ted Lindsay, center Sid Abel and Howe finished 1-2-3 in scoring.

    In the opening game of the playoffs that season, Howe's career, to say nothing of his life, almost ended. Toronto's Ted Kennedy, concerned he was about to be boarded by a charging Howe, lifted his stick, catching Howe in the eye and cutting his eyeball. Howe skidded headfirst into the boards. Rushed to the hospital with a fractured skull and severe brain damage, he was placed on the critical list. Surgeons saved him, relieving the pressure on his brain. However, the injury left him with a facial tic, and his teammates would call him "Blinky."

    After Detroit won the seventh game of the Stanley Cup in double overtime, the fans in Olympia Stadium chanted, "We want Howe! We want Howe!" until Howe, wearing street clothes and a hat, went to center ice. Lindsay pulled off Howe's hat, revealing a bald spot where he had been shaved for his operation, and threw it into the crowd.

    Howe was fully recovered by next season. After scoring 86 points, an astounding 20 more than runner-up Richard, he won the first of four consecutive Art Ross trophies as scoring champion. He also won the first of five goal-scoring titles with 43, one more than The Rocket.

    The 1951-52 season was even sweeter as it was a complete sweep for Howe, who won the MVP while leading the NHL in scoring (86 points) and goals (47). He also led Detroit to an 8-0 record in the playoffs in its sweep to the Stanley Cup.

    In 1952-53, Howe became the first player to score at least 90 points, notching 95, with a career-high 49 goals. The Red Wings, who were upset by Boston in the first round of the playoffs that season, rebounded by winning the Cup in 1954 and 1955, giving them four championships in six years.

    But that 1954-55 season marked the end of Detroit's streak of seven straight first-place finishes. And Howe celebrated his final Stanley Cup that year, too.

    He did continue to dominate offensively in the six-team, 70-game era. He became the NHL's career scoring leader in 1960 when he passed Richard's 965 points. In 1962-63, he won his sixth MVP and scoring championship (86 points).

    Six years later, Howe achieved his first 100-point season. In the second year of expansion, on the day before his 41st birthday, he scored four points in the season-finale on March 30, 1969, giving him 103 points.

    Two years later, after his 25th season with Detroit, he retired as a player with 786 goals, 1,023 assists and 1,809 points -- all NHL records. The Red Wings named him as a team vice-president.

    But after two unfilled years as an underutilized executive, Howe was presented a golden opportunity in his golden years: To play with his two sons. The Houston Aeros of the WHA signed him, Mark and Marty. It was the thrill of a lifetime for the 45-year-old father.

    "If I failed badly," Howe said, "people would remember me more for trying to make a stupid comeback at 45 than for all the other things I did in hockey."

    Though a stride slower, there was no failure. Howe won the MVP and son Mark, who was left wing on his dad's line, was named Rookie of the Year. The three Howes led Houston to WHA championships in 1974 and 1975. A graying Gordie scored 100, 99 and 102 points in his first three WHA seasons. "Playing with my kids made it fun," he said.

    When Houston exited the WHA in 1977, the three Howes moved north, to play for the New England Whalers. Two years later, the WHA was out of business. The Whalers entered the NHL in 1979 with Gordie and Mark but not Marty, who was sent to the minors. Playing all 80 games -- at about the same 204 pounds he weighed some 30 years earlier -- Gordie scored 15 goals and had 41 points. Soon after his 52nd birthday, the Hall of Fame wing retired.

    Last season, in somewhat of a publicity stunt, Howe played a shift for the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League. It enabled him to become the only man to play pro hockey in his 60s.
    If you're not following the Astros, you are doing Houston sports wrong.

  • #2

    Gordie Howe was inspiring, captivating figure
    John McClain
    When the Chronicle hired me in 1976 to cover the original Houston Aeros, I knew nothing about hockey.

    Growing up in Waco, the only thing I knew about ice was tea.

    But I did know one thing before I arrived in Houston: The Chronicle was offering me an incredible opportunity to cover what was still one of the greatest stories in sports history.

    Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey, had come out of retirement after playing 25 years with the Detroit Red Wings to join his sons, Mark and Marty, in Houston.

    When the Howes arrived in 1973, the story was so amazing it transcended sports and captured the attention of mainstream media.

    Gordie, who helped Detroit earn its nickname of Hockeytown, was considered as the great hockey player in history.

    It's a sad day for the sports world in general and the hockey world in particular because Gordie Howe touched so many.

    Gordie was 45 when the Aeros lured him from a boring front office job with the Red Wings to team with Mark (18) and Marty (19). They helped the Aeros win the Avco Trophy symbolic of the World Hockey Association champions -- in their first two seasons.

    By the time I got here, the Howes were playing in their fourth season with the Aeros. And it turned out to be their last after they lost in the finals to Winnipeg for a second consecutive season.

    Back then, the Aeros were so big in Houston they outdrew the Rockets, who played a few home games in Waco and San Antonio to help create a fan base.

    In 1975, the Aeros and Rockets moved into The Summit, which later became Compaq Center and is now Lakewood Church.

    That season, Gordie was 48 and scored 106 points, leading the Aeros to the WHA finals for a third consecutive year.

    I'll never forget my first day on the job, Oct. 18, 1976. I was 23, had a degree from Baylor and three years of experience covering sports at the Waco Tribune-Herald.

    But I'd never interviewed anybody famous other than Grant Teaff and a few lesser-known Cowboys who came to Waco for autograph sessions. I'd been on one plane, a flight from Waco to Odessa. A few days after my first hockey game, we were off to Canada and a road trip that included multiple stops around the U.S.

    Jerry Trupiano, sports director at KTRH and the voice of the Aeros, also served as the Aeros' traveling secretary, which meant he was in charge of seat assignments on our flights.

    Gordie always sat in an aisle seat, working crossword puzzles from newspapers, with his glasses pushed to the tip of his nose.

    I was scared of flying, and turbulence freaked me out.

    I always asked Trupiano for an aisle seat that was a row or two in front of Gordie and on the opposite side. When the plane hit turbulence, I just knew we were going down, but I'd look at Gordie. Seeing him continue with his crossword puzzles without a worry in the world always put me at ease.

    Once, on a flight out of Montreal, we hit horrible turbulence. People were screaming as we started to drop. I didn't panic, though. I knew as soon as I turned to look at Gordie, he'd still be doing his crossword puzzles, and I'd be able to relax.

    This time, though, I turned, and Gordie was squeezing the armrests so hard I thought his forearms would burst. His head was tilted up. His eyes were shut tight, and I could see his lips moving. And when I realized he was praying, I just knew I was going to die.

    But here I am, 41 years later, writing this column about the death of a great man who inspired me to be the sportswriter I am today.

    Dale Robertson beat me to the Aeros beat by a year. He was 23 when he met Howe in 1975. Like me, he knew nothing about hockey. In El Paso, where he grew up, the only thing he knew about ice was water.

    Dale told me a story about his first road trip with the Aeros. They had to spend a few days in Toronto. Gordie, being the friendly, helpful sort, told Dale he'd be happy to teach him about hockey if he could take the time to meet him for lunch at the hotel every day that week.

    "What a privilege to learn hockey from Mr. Hockey," Robertson said. "I thought at the time, 'This is like learning baseball from Babe Ruth.'"

    Dale and I were captivated by Gordie Howe a nice man with tanned skin, a warm smile and thinning gray hair. We knew we were around greatness. He was the first superstar we had the honor of covering, and he was old enough to be our father.

    Nobody described Mr. Hockey as being nice on the ice. Through the decades, his rock-hard elbows had caused a lot of damage to opposing players.

    I'm so sad to learn that Gordie Howe has died. He was a national treasure in two countries. He'll be missed by many, especially by those who were privileged to watch him behind the scenes as well as on the ice.
    If you're not following the Astros, you are doing Houston sports wrong.


    • #3

      Dale Robertson ‏@sportywineguy
      Meanest, too, but Gordie saved that for foes who deserved it. Kids less half his age in the WHA feared those elbows & kept their distance.

      Unquestionably the greatest and, yes, KINDEST athlete I've ever been associated with in my 44 years in sports writing.

      And he said, "Kid, you & I both know you don't anything about my sport, but I'm going to fix that." Was like learning baseball from the Babe

      First hockey game I covered for Houston Post was first hockey game I ever saw. On a long layover in Toronto, Gordie took me aside . . .
      If you're not following the Astros, you are doing Houston sports wrong.


      • #4

        Howe with a then 11 year old Wayne Gretzky
        If you're not following the Astros, you are doing Houston sports wrong.


        • #5
          He made me a Hockey fan for about three years. THAT is remarkable.
 of #98 D. J. Reader