The man known simply as “Mr. Hockey” has died.
Gordie Howe will long be remembered as, not only a great player but also an ambassador for the game of hockey. He inspired Wayne Gretzky to become what he was and Gordie Howe’s legacy will live on in the players that “The Great One” inspired and ones that they inspire.
He scored 801 NHL goals and had 1,850 points, both records that have been long-since broken by Gretzky. But to many people who got to see him play live (spanning about two generations) he was the greatest player they ever saw.
Born March 31, 1928 in Floral, Saskatchewan, Mr. Howe made his NHL debut during the 1946-47 season with the Detroit Red Wings. He would go on to play in the Motor City until the 1970-71 season, winning Stanley Cups in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955.
He retired from the NHL for the first time in 1971 with 786 goals and 1,809 points. He was quickly elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.
But retirement did not suit him and he had the opportunity to play with his sons Marty and Mark (himself a hall of fame defensemen who also played for the Red Wings later in his career) in the fledgling World Hockey Association. He would suit up again in the 1973-74 season for the Houston Aeros with his sons and would go on to have another successful career in the WHA. He scored 174 goals with 334 assists for 508 points in a WHA career that included time with the Aeros and the New England Whalers. He would win two Avco World Cups as champions of the WHA with the Aeros in 1974 and 1975.
He would return to the NHL for one season after the WHA-NHL merger in 1979 with the now-named Hartford Whalers. He played in 80 games in that 1979-80 season, in which he turned 52, a tribute to his toughness and versatility. He also scored another 15 goals and 26 assists to cap off his NHL career with the magic numbers of 801 goals and 1,850 points.
After his second retirement, he became more and more of an ambassador for the sport. He was there to speak whenever Wayne Gretzky broke one of his scoring records throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. He also dropped the ceremonial first puck at the 1984 NHL All-Star Game played at the Meadowlands.
Speaking of All-Star games, he was a 23-time NHL All-Star. That includes the famous game in 1980 at Joe Louis Arena when he was reintroduced to the adoring Detroit crowd with a standing ovation.
Other awards include winning the Art Ross Trophy in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957 and 1963. He won the Hart Trophy as MVP in 1952, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1960 and 1963. He also won the 1974 Gary L. Davidson Award/Gordie Howe Trophy in the WHA as that league’s MVP.
Postseason All-Star teams include first team honors in the NHL from 1951 to 1954 and again in 1957, 1958, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1969 and 1970. He was also a first team WHA All-Star in 1974 and 1975. He was named to the second NHL All-Star team in 1949, 1950, 1956, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965 and 1967.
He even came out of retirement a second time to be the first man to play in decades ranging from the 1940’s to the 1990’s when he suited up for the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League for one game in 1997-98. Although it was a publicity stunt and he only skated in the one game, the fact that he could pull off playing a professional game in his late-60s was testament to the legacy of “Mr. Hockey.”
So, as we mourn this great player, let us remember that Gordie Howe’s legacy still lives with the game. Although his records may have fallen, he will come to life every time a player records a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick,” a feat he never actually pulled off, but was named for him because of his toughness.
Rest in peace, Gordie Howe.
Note: All stats listed in this article came from the fantastic Hockey-Reference.com site.