Gordie Howe, ′Mr. Hockey′ died today at the age of 88 years. Howe was a hockey legend, playing for the Detroit Red Wings through most of his career. While the cause of death is unknown, he did suffer a stroke two years ago and has serious health issues for some time. Born in Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada on March 31, 1928, Howe became one of the most celebrated players of the National Hockey League. He joined the NHL in 1946 after being signed up by the Red Wings and spent the next 25 years playing for Detroit. During this period, Gordie Howe broke practically every record in the book, especially scoring goals. In the NHL, Howe scored 801 goals and racked up 1,049 assists, a record which held until Wayne Gretzky shattered it. But for Detroit Red Wings fans, Gordie Howe will always be remembered as Number 9 of the ′Production Line′!
Ah, those were the days! I have fond memories of watching Gordie Howe play at the old Olympia Stadium, also known as ′The Barn′. He was a big, tough hombre! As a youth in Canada, he worked on farms, tossing 100-pound bags of whatever around. That hard work set the tone for the rest of his life. Howe played ′right wing′, which is why I enjoy the term these days. In his early years with Detroit, Howe′s team mates which made up ′The Production Line′ were Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay. They racked up four Stanley Cup championships and Detroit finished in first place for seven consecutive seasons. Nobody has done that since!
In the late 1960s, after the NHL expanded from 6 to 12 teams, Howe got a second wind at the age of 40. His new Production Line team mates were Alex Delvecchio and Frank Mahovlich. But, shortly after his best scoring season ever, 103 points with 44 goals and 59 assists, Howe′s career in Detroit went downhill fast. Age was catching up as Howe developed wrist problems. The team′s management and owner, Bruce Norris, also created tension over Howe′s salary requests of $100,000 a year. By 1972, Gordie had left the Red Wings.
Two years later, Howe returned to the ice playing for the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association, primarily to play alongside his sons, Mark and Marty. They played together in Houston from 1974 through 1976. In 1977, they joined the New England Whalers. Howe and his boys also played with Team Canada against the Russians in 1974. Even at 46, he outplayed Russian players half his age. In 1979, Howe finally had an opportunity to play alongside Wayne Gretzky in the WHA All Star Games, which pitted the All-Stars against another Russian team. After the WHA folded at the end of the ′79 season, the team joined the NHL and changed their name to the Hartford Whalers. Gordie played one season with them then retired, sort of. In 1997, at the age of 69, he played one shift of one game for the Detroit Vipers of the IHL, the International Hockey League.
Gordie Howe was truly ′Mr. Hockey′! He was a great player and a great man, doing much for various charities. Detroit Red Wings fans will mourn his death at the age of 88. But, so too will nearly anyone who loves the sport of ice hockey. Howe was a ′blue collar′ guy, working hard and playing hard. Few people messed with him and got the better of Gordie Howe. I have no doubt that the National Hockey league, the NHL, will commemorate his life and accomplishments as they wrap up this season′s Stanley Cup championship.