Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockey!
Last June, Detroit and the world of hockey said goodbye to Gordie Howe. Mr. Howe was one of the best hockey players ever. In fact, this past January, when the NHL celebrated their 100 best ever players, the consensus of the surviving players was that Gordie Howe was, indeed, the best of the best.
Howe was named a first or second team All-Star 21 times. He earned the NHL scoring title six times and the league MVP six times. His Red Wings won the Stanley Cup four times. For 20 straight seasons with the Red Wings, he was in the top five in scoring. At age 50, he led his team (the New England Whalers of the WHA) in scoring with 96 points. He played with power, finesse, and speed for an amazingly long time. When he finally retired, he led the league in most games and seasons played, and in goals, assists, and points scored.
But the thrill of his hockey life was having the chance to play professionally with his sons. He initially retired at the age of 42, but decided to jump back in the game when two of his boys, Mark and Marty, got their professional start. Hockey people were not too surprised; Mr. Howe was known for his devotion to his family.
He was a beast on the ice, but a gentleman off it. “Humble, appreciative, and modest” is how he had been described by non-hockey players. He was similarly devoted to his adopted city of Detroit. Just a poor farm boy from Sasketchewan was how he described himself. But he became a strong ambassador for both the city of Detroit and for the NHL. Due in large part to his and his family’s efforts, Detroit was recently named the Best Hockey City in the USA.
Such was the impact of Gordie Howe on the city of Detroit, that a bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario is being planned. That is a fitting tribute. Mr Howe’s efforts made many connections between Canada and the USA. What is also remarkable is how his career has bridged generations. That might inspire those of us who like the idea of defying their age.
In the eulogy written by Wayne Gretzky printed by Time magazine last June, the person who broke Howe’s scoring records declared that Gordie Howe was the best player ever. What was most important, said the Great One, was that Mr. Howe was a better person than he was a hockey player.
Nice challenge to us parents, eh?
My favorite Gordie Howe quote:
“I always tell kids, you have two eyes and one mouth. Keep two open and one closed. You never learn anything if you’re the one talking.”
Read more “Reflections of a Grinder” from Dr. Donnelly here.