“You find that you have peace of mind and can enjoy yourself, get more sleep, and rest when you know that it was a one hundred percent effort that you gave - win or lose.”
— GORDIE HOWE
Howe was born March 31, 1928, to parents Ab and Katherine Howe in a farmhouse in Floral, Saskatchewan – one of nine children. When Gordie was nine days old, the Howes moved to Saskatoon, where his father worked as a labourer during the Depression. In the summers, Howe would work construction with his father. Howe was mildly dyslexic growing up, but was physically beyond his years at an early age. Already six feet tall in his mid-teens, doctors feared a calcium deficiency and encouraged him to strengthen his spine with chin-ups. He began playing organized hockey at eight years old, then left Saskatoon at sixteen to pursue his hockey career.
Howe was an ambidextrous player, one of a handful of skaters able to use the straight sticks of his era to shoot either left- or right-handed. He received his first taste of professional hockey at fifteen years old when he was invited to a tryout for the New York Rangers in Brooklyn, but he did not make the team. A year later, he was noticed by Detroit Red Wings scout Fred Pinkney; he was signed by the Red Wings and assigned to their junior team, the Galt Red Wings. However, due to a maximum amount of Western players allowed by the league and the Red Wings’ preference to develop older players, Howe’s playing time with the team was initially limited. 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. While playing in Omaha, Frank Selke of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization noticed that Howe was not properly listed as Red Wings property. Having a good relationship with Detroit coach Jack Adams, he notified Adams of the clerical error and Howe was quickly put on the team’s protected list.
The expansion, popularity and remarkable growth today of hockey, the world’s fastest and most violent team sport, is attributed to the extraordinary career and influence of the six-decade mega superstar. When he retired for the first time in 1971, Clarence Campbell, NHL league president said, “Gordie, when you entered into the league, hockey was a Canadian sport, as you exit, you have made it a North American sport!”
Howe’s name has been synonymous with the sport since the mid 1940’s. To millions of fans around the globe, #9 is revered as “Mr. Hockey.” In attempting to assess Gordie’s astounding abilities, he has been called Power, Mr.Hockey, The Great Gordie, Mr. Elbows, The King of Hockey, and simply Number 9. In many ways, Howe helped propel hockey to the level of popularity it enjoys today. He has been hockey’s number one ambassador for nearly a half century and no player in history has given more to the sport.
Howe has always been a very accessible superstar and thousands of fans have cherished memories of their encounter with the humble icon. Joe Falls, legendary Detroit News sports writer says, “Gordie is by far the nicest athlete I have ever met.”
Howe entered the National Hockey League in 1946 at the age of 18 in the era of six teams and the top 120 players in the world. He scored a goal in his first game. He would ultimately go on to score 1,070 more goals while appearing for the Detroit Red Wings, Houston Aeros, New England Whalers, and Hartford Whalers. In 1963 he would establish the all time goals mark and retain that record continuously for 36 years! At the time Gordie broke Maurice Richard’s all-time goal mark of 545 goals, 291 of the goals he scored in his record-breaking bid were on Hall of Fame goalies in an era of supremely low scoring. After finally retiring in 1980, Gordie had established the all-time mark for goals (1,071), assists (1518), points, (2,589) games played (2,421), All Star appearances (29) most MVP’s (7), most scoring titles (6) most seasons (32). Astonishingly, Gordie was in the top five in scoring for twenty consecutive years in the NHL. Even more remarkable, statistically Gordie had his best years when he was 41 and 48 years old! He literally established records upon records and set the record for the most records by any athlete ever in any sport. Aside from Gordie’s coring abilities, he know as a complete player being dominant in all areas of the ice. He endured crippling injuries during his career amassing 500 stitches in his face alone. As a Detroit Red Wing, Gordie would help lead the team to 4 Stanley Cup Championships, and he would play hockey with the greatest trio ever, “The Production Line” composed of Hall of Famers Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel. The Wings of the 1950s are considered one of sport’s greatest dynasties as they compiled a string of 7 consecutive league championships in a row that not even the fabled New York Yankees could match.
In 1973-74, at age 45, and after an incredible string of events engineered by Gordie’s wife and visionary business partner, Colleen Howe, Gordie jettisoned from retirement to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing with his sons, Mark and Marty, with the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association. This marked the first time in the history of team sports a father played with a son let alone two sons in a major sport. Unbelievably, “Hockey’s Ageless Wonder”, along with his two sons would lead their team to the championship. And they would do it again the following year. Remarkably, Gordie earned MVP honors (another record). The trophy soon became known as the Gordie Howe MVP trophy and Mark earned rookie of year honors. The Howe’s in Houston helped to popularize hockey in the South and add another chapter in the story of the greatest family in hockey history. Gordie, Mark and Marty would play for six years together before Gordie retired in 1980. In his final season, Gordie fulfilled another dream by playing on the same line with his sons in an NHL game. At the age of 52, and playing in all 80 of the team’s games, he was Hartford’s leading scorer for most of the season.
Howe’s extraordinary talent, fame and allure helped the NHL to expand by over 350% during his tenure and also spawn a whole new league-the World Hockey Association. When he retired from the sport he held more records than any team athlete in history.
- 6 decades, 32 pro seasons, 2589 career points, 1,071 goals, 29 all-star appearances, all time regular season scoring champ (NHA & WHA combined) all time game winning goal champ, only athlete in the world to play against players in every decade of the pro league’s existence (NHL 1920s to present), 7 time MVP, 6 time scoring champ, led teams to the final championship series round in 15 of his 32 seasons, including winning 6 world championship cups.
Howe was in the top 5 in scoring in the NHL for 20 consecutive seasons, playing in the low scoring, tough original six era dominated by the highest concentration of talent in history. He could shoot right, left, and play any position and was feared as one of the toughest players in history. Remarkably, in 1997 Gordie come out of retirement once again and donned the jersey of The Detroit Vipers and became the first player ever to play professional hockey in six decades.
Howe was awarded the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civil honor. He also received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina. Howe is the first to garner the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the U.S. and he is a member of 11 different Hall of Fames.