Photo taken of Gordie Howe January 1977, at Calgary Alberta after a game between the Houston Aeros and the Calgary Cowboys of the WHA. Gordie is waiting to be interviewed by the CBC. He was, and still is, my idol.
Howe was born to parents Ab and Kate Howe in a farmhouse in Floral, Saskatchewan – one of nine children. He began playing organized hockey at 8 years old, then left at 16 to pursue his hockey career.
He was signed by the Red Wings and assigned to their junior team in Galt, Ontario. In 1945, however, he was promoted to the Omaha Knights of the minor professional United States Hockey League (USHL), where he scored 48 points in 51 games as a seventeen-year-old. Signing with the Red Wings for his first season, it is said he received a team letterman jacket as a signing bonus.
Howe made his NHL debut in 1946 at the age of 18, playing right wing for the Detroit Red Wings, for which he wore #17 as a rookie. When Roy Conacher moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks after the 1946–47 season, however, Howe was offered Conacher’s #9 which he would wear for the rest of his career. Howe accepted it when he was informed that “9” would entitle him to a lower Pullman berth on road trips. Howe quickly established himself as a great goal scorer and a gifted playmaker with a willingness to fight. The hockey term, Gordie Howe hat trick, which includes a goal, assist and a fight, was coined in his honor to epitomize his willingness to do what it takes to win. Using his great physical strength, he was able to dominate the opposition in a career that spanned five decades. In a feat unsurpassed by any athlete, in any sport, Gordie Howe finished in the top five in scoring for twenty straight seasons.
Howe led Detroit to four Stanley Cups and to first place in regular season play for seven consecutive years (1948–49 to 1955–56), a feat never equaled in NHL history. During this time Howe and his linemates, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay, were known collectively as “The Production Line”, both for their scoring and as an allusion to Detroit auto factories. The trio dominated the league in such a fashion that in 1949–50, they finished one-two-three in league scoring. Howe had been in his prime during a defensive era, the 1940s and 1950s, when scoring was difficult and checking was tight.
As his career just started going, however, Howe sustained the worst injury of his career, fracturing his skull in a collision with Toronto Maple Leafs captain Ted Kennedy into the boards during the 1950 playoffs. The severity of the fracture was such that he was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery in order to relieve building pressure on his brain. The next season, he returned to record 86 points, winning the scoring title by 20 points.
As Howe emerged as one of the game’s superstars, he was frequently compared to the Montreal Canadiens’ Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Both were right wingers who wore the same sweater number (9), were frequently contenders for the league scoring title, and could also play rough if needed. During their first encounter in the Montreal Forum, when Howe was a rookie, he knocked Richard down with a punch after being shoved. The Red Wings and Canadiens faced off in four Stanley Cup finals during the 1950s and when Richard retired in 1960, he paid tribute to Howe, saying “Gordie could do everything.”
Howe played the 1968–69 season on a line with Alex Delvecchio and Frank Mahovlich. Mahovlich was big, fast, and skilled, and Delvecchio was a gifted playmaker. The three were dubbed “The Production Line 3” and at forty-years-old, Howe reached new scoring heights, topping 100 points for the only time of his NHL career with 44 goals and a career-high 59 assists.
Following that season, however, conflict with the Red Wings organization arose after Howe discovered he was just the third-highest paid player on the team with a $45,000 salary. Furthermore, while owner Bruce Norris increased Howe’s salary to $100,000, he blamed Howe’s wife, Colleen, for the demand. Howe remained with the Red Wings for two more seasons, but after twenty-five years, a chronic wrist problem forced him to retire after the 1970–71 season and he took a job in the Red Wings front office.
A year later, he was offered a contract to play with the Houston Aeros of the newly formed World Hockey Association, who had also signed his sons Mark and Marty to contracts. Dissatisfied with not having any meaningful influence in the Red Wings’ office, he underwent an operation to improve his wrist and make a return to hockey possible, and he led his new team to consecutive championships. In 1974, at the age of 46, Howe won the Gary L. Davidson Trophy, awarded to the WHA’s most valuable player (the trophy was renamed the Gordie Howe Trophy the following year).
In the final season of the WHA, Gordie had the opportunity to play with Wayne Gretzky in the 1979 WHA All-Star Game.
When the WHA folded in 1979, the Hartford Whalers joined the NHL and the 51-year-old Howe signed on for one final season playing in all 80 games of the schedule, helping his team to make the playoffs with fifteen goals. One particular honor was when Howe, Phil Esposito, and Jean Ratelle were selected to the mid-season all-star game by coach Scotty Bowman, as a nod to their storied careers before they retired. Howe had played in five decades of all-star games and he would skate alongside the second-youngest to ever play in the game, 19-year-old Wayne Gretzky. The Joe Louis Arena crowd gave him a standing ovation twice, lasting so long, he had to skate to the bench to stop people from cheering. He had one assist in his side’s 6–3 win.
Howe became good friends with Wayne Gretzky, who had idolized Howe as a young player, and who would later break many of Howe’s scoring records and milestones. Gretzky has said on various occasions that the reason he wore #99 was because he felt he was not worthy to wear Howe’s #9.
Another milestone in a remarkable career was reached in 1997 when Howe played professional hockey in a sixth decade. He was signed to a one-game contract by the Detroit Vipers of the IHL and, almost 70 years old, made a return to the ice for one shift. In doing so, he became the only player in hockey history to compete in six different decades at the professional level, having played in the NHL, WHA and IHL from the 1940s to 1990s.
Howe’s #9 banner hanging in Joe Louis Arena.
His most productive seasons came during an era when scoring was difficult and checking was tight, yet Howe ranks third in NHL history with 1,850 total points, including 801 goals and 1,049 assists. When career regular season goals from both the NHL and the WHA are combined, he ranks first in goals with 975.
At the time of his retirement, Howe’s professional totals, including playoffs, for the NHL and WHA combined, were first. He finished with 2,421 games played, 1,071 goals, 1,518 assists, and 2,589 points.
One story is that a child wrote a letter addressed only to MISTER HOCKEY and the Post Office dutifully delivered it to Gordie Howe.