Gordie Howe could have been a Ranger or a Maple Leaf—very easily, in fact. At age 15, he was invited to a tryout with New York, but didn’t impress management enough to be placed on the protected list. After being noticed by the Red Wings and being assigned to their United States League team for development, the Maple Leafs noticed he was never actually put on the Wings’ protected list. Instead of sneaking around and snatching Howe, he informed Detroit coach Jack Adams, a good friend, noting there had been a clerical error. Adams immediately placed Howe on the protected list, and Mr. Hockey made his NHL debut in 1946 at age 18.
Howe wasn’t a dominant goal scorer in his first few seasons, but scored 68 points in 70 games in 1949-50, when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. He increased his production and led the NHL in points the next four seasons, winning two more Stanley Cups in the process (and another, his fourth, in 1954-55). He led the league in points six times throughout his career, led the league in goals five times and led the league in assists three times.
In addition to his goal-scoring prowess, Howe was also known for his tough play and his ability to plow you into the boards before (or after) scoring a goal. He also was ambidextrous and was able to use the era’s straight sticks as both a lefty and righty, further increasing his ability to get around every opponent on the ice. In addition to his six NHL scoring champion titles, he won the Hart Trophy as league MVP six times and captained the Red Wings from 1958 to 1962. Though he jumped to the WHA in 1973-74, his NHL numbers were the best in NHL history to that point and stood until Wayne Gretzky broke them in the 1990s.
Howe was also famous for his friendliness off the ice and his ability to make each young fan feel special.
“I'm watching these guys in awe and Gordie Howe picked up a whole bunch of snow on his stick and dumped it on my head,” said Jeremy Roenick. “I thought that was the coolest thing that ever happened. Then he skated around and he looked at me again and he winked. For those three seconds, it was me and Gordie Howe and nobody else. It was little, it was small, it took nothing out of his time, but it resonated my whole life. So as a player, as I got older, I tried to reach out to fans, to reach out to kids.”
Howe also has an impact on media members, as The Hockey News’ Ryan Dixon recently pointed out in a THN.com article (http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/35801-THNcom-Blog-Shaking-hands-with-the-legend-Gordie-Howe.html). Gordie was telling stories and explained the following event while he was in the WHA:
“‘There was a Russian hacking away at Wayne all night and he was getting really frustrated,” Howe said. “I told him, ‘The next time you get the puck, bring it up right wing. When you hear heavy breathing, get out of the way.’
Howe leveled the Russian with a devastating check. As the Russian trainer tended to his prone player, the WHA team changed lines.
“We were sitting on the bench and I said, ‘Damn,’ ” Howe remembered. “Wayne asked,
‘What’s wrong, Gord?’
“I said, ‘He’s getting up.’”
Mr. Hockey’s accomplishments include a 23-time NHL All-Star, 12 First All-Star Team Selections, nine Second Team All-Star Selections, four Stanley Cups, a Lester Patrick Award, a two-time Avco World Trophy winner as the WHA champion, a two-time WHA All-Star, being in the top five in NHL scoring for 20 consecutive seasons, and having his number nine retired by the Red Wings, Houston Aeros and Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes.
Ranked number three on The Hockey News’ list of all-time greatest players, Howe currently holds 13 NHL records and three Red Wings records. He is the highest-scoring winger of all time and the greatest of any that ever played the game. The icing was put on the cake that is Gordie Howe’s career when he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, officially ending Mr. Hockey’s legendary career that will never be forgotten.