Sports Commentary 5/6/13
The New Gordie Howe Movie on Hallmark Channel
MR. HOCKEY GOES HOLLYWOOD
I got to see the Hallmark Channel bio-pic of Gordie Howe over the weekend. The movie actually only covers a year in his life, when Gordie was 45 years old and unhappy with a nothing front office role with the Detroit Red Wings following his retirement as a player. The Houston Aeros of the new World Hockey Association stepped over a line many WHA teams crossed in those years, the Whalers doing so with Gordie Roberts, when they drafted and signed underage junior Mark Howe. Gordie saw the opening to convince the Aeros to sign him and older son Marty, hoping for the chance to play as a pro with his two sons. The Aeros went for it, Gordie tirelessly worked his way back into playing shape and the three Howe’s led the Aeros to the AVCO World Cup championship, a story that always had Hollywood written all over it. With two producers with Hartford Whalers written all over them, David E. Kelley, son of former Whalers coach and general manager Jack Kelley, and Howard Baldwin behind the project it finally came to fruition and it turned out pretty good. Michael Shanks caught the essence of Gordie Howe, the drive to succeed, his love of family and his understated nature. In the limited time, 90 minutes, Kathleen Robertson also caught the essence of Colleen Howe, the fine balance between wife, mother and business manager. Having become close friends with Gordie during his days in Hartford, for several seasons following his second retirement sitting next to him in the press box for Whalers games, at his request, I watched the movie with a critical eye. Unfortunately the T-V treatment couldn’t go in depth enough to really portray Gordie’s lightning quick wit, a natural attribute that made you pay close attention to every conversation, lest you miss a gem. One time Gordie and I sat alone just below the Civic Center walk-around during a Whalers training camp session when the conversation turned to goaltenders and we both expressed, that while we’d each tried our hand at goaltending, neither one of us could ever play the position, we wanted to be out there on the open ice. “I remember when I was a kid on Jerry Dunnack’s pond in Columbia”, I recalled, “All I wanted to do was skate up and down the ice with the wind blowing through my hair, pretending I was Gordie Howe.” “No kidding”, Gordie responded without a pause, “That’s the same thing I pretended the last six years I was playing”. Long time local hockey fans will appreciate the details Kelley and Baldwin were careful to bring to the flick, such as the radio broadcast of a game against the Whalers in Hartford that Colleen listens to on the radio, and the references to players like Brad Sellwood. The final scene of the movie is a tearjerker for anyone who knows Gordie, or loved him as a player, footage of the real Gordie Howe, with his blue and green Whalers hockey gloves, skating onto the ice in Detroit for the 1980 NHL All Star Game to a thunderous ovation from the Detroit Fans. There are a lot of hidden gems in this one. The coach of the Aeros, most frequently referred to as “Foxy” in the movie, is Gordie’s long time Red Wings teammate Bill Dineen, who, of course, would go on to coach the Whalers with the Howes and had a son who played a big part in Whalers history. It was a trip down memory lane and it took great care to capture the honesty of the era with the time it had. I give it two “elbows” up. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.