Forever Mr. Hockey

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Forever Mr. Hockey

Submitted by sports business news on Sat, 06/11/2016 – 22:00

Gordie Howe last played in the NHL in 1980, when he posted 41 points in 80 games with the Hartford Whalers at the age of 51. But his impact is still felt throughout the league.

When he walked into an NHL dressing room, as he did in March when he celebrated his 88th birthday in Detroit, a hush often came over the room. All attention turned to him as today’s players shook his hand and exchanged hellos.

He didn’t command respect, but it was given to him freely by players of all generations who appreciated his place in the sporting landscape.

They understood his impact, an impact still felt today in these five areas:

1. He still holds records: When Jaromir Jagr passed Howe this season to move into third place all time in regular-season points, it was a reminder of just how productive and proficient Howe was over the course of his long career.

Jagr is 44 years old, one of the all-time greats, and became just the third NHL player to get past Howe’s career point total of 1,850. Tack on the 508 points Howe posted in the WHA, and only Wayne Gretzky has a higher total.

Gretzky and Howe are the only NHL players to finish their careers with more than 800 goals, with Howe ending his NHL career with 801. To give that perspective, Sidney Crosby could score 40 goals every season for the next decade and he’d still be 63 goals short.

Howe made 29 All-Star appearances, won six Hart Trophies and won four Stanley Cups.

2. The Gordie Howe hat trick: If Howe’s legacy was only the Gordie Howe hat trick, that would still be pretty darn cool. To register a Gordie Howe hat trick, a player has to score a goal, have an assist and get in a fight.

Howe had his first one on Oct. 11, 1953, and it’s still considered an honor for a player to pull off this feat.

According to NHL.com, Brendan Shanahan is the career leader in Gordie Howe hat tricks since they started being tracked. Shanahan finished his career with 17.

“Players might be more aware of it now. If you get two of the three [categories], someone might say, ‘Hey, all you need is a goal,'” Shanahan told NHL.com in 2010. “I think it happens more if you have a fight and one of those two other things. Nobody ever says, ‘Hey, you’ve got a goal and an assist, go get in a fight.'”

3. He laid the foundation for Hockeytown: The Detroit area is a thriving hockey hotbed, with the Red Wings serving as the centerpiece. In leading the Detroit Red Wings to Stanley Cup titles in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955, Howe helped establish them as one of the great organizations in hockey and served as an ambassador to the sport in the area until he died.

“His impact on the Red Wings organization is still evident today. I travel the world and constantly hear stories from people who love the Wings and share memories of the glory days when Gordie and his teammates ruled the NHL,” said former Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a statement. “For all players fortunate enough to play for the Wings, we should take time to thank and honor Gordie, for he is a significant reason why Detroit is such a special place to play.”

Howe and his wife, Colleen, worked hard in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs to get rinks built and spread the game of hockey as far and wide as they were able. Colleen Howe, who predeceased Gordie, is also credited as the founder of the first junior-league hockey team in the United States.

Now, Southeast Michigan has everything from thriving youth programs to college teams to junior teams and is also the home of USA Hockey’s national team development program. Howe’s shadow is over it all.

4. He epitomized hockey toughness: When a current NHL player blocks a shot with his face, goes and gets stitched up, returns with a cage, and finishes up the game, he’s just continuing the tradition set in place years ago by Howe and the players of his generation.

In 1950, during a playoff game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Howe crashed into the boards, fracturing his nose and cheekbone and lacerating his eyeball. There was damage to his brain.

“They had to drill into his skull,” said his son Mark Howe.

Drilling into a skull to relieve pressure is usually a good excuse to quit playing, but Howe did the opposite. He came back the next season and played a full 70 games, leading the NHL with 43 goals and 86 points in 70 games.

Despite injuries that included everything from concussions, broken bones and hundreds of stitches, and a physical playing style that is best described as a hybrid of Brendan Shanahan, Alex Ovechkin and Mark Messier, Howe rarely missed games, playing at least 70 games in 21 of his professional seasons.

He was mean. He was tough. And all but impossible to knock out of the lineup.

5. The Howe family is hockey royalty: The NHL world is full of hockey families, like the Sutters, Geoffrions, Dineens, Folignos, Stastnys — on and on it goes.

But the Howes are hockey royalty.

Nothing was cooler than Gordie Howe getting to play with his sons Marty and Mark in both Hartford (NHL) and Houston (WHL).

Former NHL forward Nick Fotiu played with the Howe family in Hartford and said it was a memory he won’t forget.

“It was great playing with them. Gordie was protecting his sons and I was protecting Gordie,” Fotiu said during an interview a couple years ago. “It was a great experience. We had fun all the time. … Gordie helped me out a lot. Very respectful too.”

Gordie Howe was once asked what he passed on to his Hall of Fame son Mark, and it wasn’t anything about skill or physical attributes.

“Love of the game,” Gordie Howe said in 2011.

Mark and his brothers would grow up banging endless shots against the Howe home, which was fine with Gordie.

“I said he could break more windows as long as he kept the love of the game,” Gordie Howe said.

The Howe family has passed that love of the sport beyond their immediate family to anyone they come in contact with. It started with Gordie. http://espn.go.com/espn/print?id=16103812&type=Columnist&imagesPrint=off



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