by Rob Joyce
There’s a reason he’s known as “Mr. Hockey”, and that’s because Gordie Howe defined everything the prototypical hockey player is supposed to be, and he did it for 70 years. The on-ice numbers speak for themselves: a 32-year career, 801 NHL goals, 1850 points, 23 All-Star games, six Hart Trophies and four Stanley Cups, while being the most physically-feared player on the ice. As intimidating as he was with skates on, take them off and he was universally renowned as being one of the most gracious people in the world.
It’s a mammoth loss for hockey, as there will never be another Gordie Howe. In honor of his famous No. 9, here are nine little-known facts about Mr. Hockey:
He was ambidextrous.
For years and years hockey players have curved the blades on their sticks depending on whether they are a right- or left-handed. It does a variety of things depending on the degree of the curvature, but everyone does it in some fashion. Howe didn’t. He used a flat blade, allowing him to shoot equally well as a righty or lefty.
The “Gordie Howe hat trick” was only done twice in his career.
A “Gordie Howe hat trick” means a player scored a goal, tallied an assist and got into a fight in one game. Though he did plenty of all three of those in his career, he only accomplished the collective feat twice in his 1,767 NHL games, and they happened in the same season (1953-54). Rick Tocchet is the all-time leader with 18 GHHTs between the regular and postseason.
Howe could have been a New York Ranger.
There were only six teams in the NHL for the vast majority of Howe’s career, so options were limited for prospects. He was invited to training camp by the Rangers in 1943, when he was just 15. Impressed by the youngster, New York wanted to sign him to a “C” form, meaning his NHL rights would belong to the Rangers. However, they wanted him to play at a school away from home to improve his skills, something he didn’t want to do. Instead he turned down the offer, stayed in Saskatoon and the next year went to Detroit’s camp and signed with the Red Wings. After 25 seasons, 786 goals and four Stanley Cups, that signing worked out for both sides.
He’s regarded amongst Hall of Famers as the greatest of all-time.
The Hockey News released a list of the 100 greatest hockey players of all-time in 1998. Howe came in third in that list, behind only Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr. Just don’t tell Gretzky and Orr that. The Great One, who shattered most of Howe’s records, has said multiple times that Mr. Hockey is the greatest ever. He wanted to wear Howe’s number nine when he joined the OHL, but it was taken, so he settled for his now-immortalized 99.
As for Orr, who won eight straight Norris Trophies before injuries prematurely ended his career, he wrote the foreword for Howe’s 2014 autobiography. A quote: “I’m not talking about being one of the greatest hockey players ever. I am talking about being the greatest player ever. Period.”
An award was named after him while he was still an active player.
In the first three years of the World Hockey Association’s existence (1973-75) the league’s most valuable player was given the Gary L. Davidson Award, named for the league’s co-founder. Howe won the honor in 1974 (Bobby Hull won the other two). Starting with the ’75-76 season until the WHA’s folding four years later, despite the fact that Howe was an active player for the Houston Aeros, the MVP designation was changed. You would be given the Gary L. Davidson Award, but receive the Gordie Howe Trophy.
Mr. Hockey and the Golden Jet shared their final game.
Speaking of Bobby Hull, he was traded to the Hartford Whalers late in the 1979-80 season, where he played in nine regular season and three playoff games, spending much of that time on a line with Howe and Dave Keon. That third playoff contest, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Canadiens, was the final game in the storied careers of both Howe and Hull, who combined for 1,411 NHL goals in 2,830 games.
He holds two honorary degrees, yet never went to high school.
Growing up in Saskatoon, Howe stopped his formal education after eighth grade, in midst of the Depression, to work in construction. At 16, he officially began his pursuit of his pro career. Despite the fact that he never had a secondary education, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Regina in 1997, and the same from the University of Saskatchewan in 2010.
His name was Gordon Howe, OC for the final 45 years of his life.
After his initial retirement from hockey in 1971 he was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada, the second-highest honor a Canadian can receive for merit. The decoration meant he would be given the post-nominal letters “OC” for life. Only the Order of Merit (“OM”) is higher, and no athlete has ever been given that appointment.
He is the patriarch of hockey’s ultimate family.
The reason he came out of retirement in 1973 to play for the Houston Aeros of the WHA was so he could play with his two sons, Marty and Mark, something he would do with the Aeros and the New England (and then Hartford) Whalers. Mark joins his dad in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Marty had a 12-year pro career, and he has two other children (son Murray and daughter Cathy).
But the undisputed leader of the Howe family was his late wife, Colleen. Married to Gordie for 55 years until her death in 2009, she helped establish the first Junior A hockey team in the United States, was the agent for Gordie, Mark and Marty, and even made a run for Congress. She was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, becoming the first woman to be honored by a major hockey hall.