The Life

of Mr. Hockey


Born: March 31, 1928 in Floral, Saskatchewan. “He was born in a barn, and the house he grew up in was no bigger than a garage,” son Mark said. “They had nothing, like many people during the Depression. Someone was going door to door, selling bags of stuff for $1 and in one of those bags, dad got his first pair of skates.”

Died: Friday, at age 88, in Sylvania, Ohio, at the home of son, Murray, a physician. Howe had two strokes and suffered from dementia in recent years.

His impact: “When Gordie came into the NHL,” then-NHL President Clarence Campbell said in 1980, “hockey was a Canadian game. He’s converted it into a North American game.”

His legacy: Howe, at 6-foot and 205 pounds, was the most skilled and toughest player of his era, making his No. 9 the most famous number in hockey. Any player who has a goal, an assist and a fight in a game is said to get a “Gordie Howe hat trick.”

In the pros: Joined the Detroit Red Wings in 1946 and played 25 seasons, winning four Stanley Cups with Detroit. Retired in 1971, but came out of retirement two years later to join Mark and Marty in the World Hockey Association, and played until he was 52. Set NHL records with 801 goals and 1,850 points that lasted until they were broken by Wayne Gretzky, who wore No. 99 in tribute to his idol. Howe won six Hart Trophies (MVP) and led the NHL in scoring six times. He played an additional 419 games in the WHA, scoring 174 goals and amassing 508 points.

Playing with pain: Howe needed more than 400 stitches to close cuts, lost several teeth, broke ribs and his nose many times. He had a serious head injury in 1950 that led to emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. Despite the blood and broken bones, he didn’t miss many games during his NHL-record, 1,767-game career and played in all 80 during his final season that ended after his 52nd birthday.

Family man: His wife, Colleen, helped Gordie champion the game for children and became his agent. She died in 2009. Howe is survived by his four children, Murray, Mark, Marty and Cathy. Mark, like his father, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In his own words: “You’ve got to love what you’re doing. If you love it, you can overcome any handicap or the soreness or all the aches and pains, and continue to play for a long, long time.”

Nine-time Stanley Cup winning coach Scotty Bowman: “If you were ever going to make a mold for a hockey player with five strengths — offense, defense, durability, toughness and versatility — you wouldn’t look past Gordie Howe. In my estimation, he was the best ever.”

From Gretzky: Howe was “the greatest hockey player ever” and “the nicest man I have ever met.” “Thoughts and prayers to the Howe family and to the millions of hockey fans who, like me, loved Gordie Howe. RIP Mr. Hockey.”