Mark Howe was no stranger to May hockey as a player.
Today, Howe is very familiar with it as well, but instead of lacing up skates, he’s filing reports. Instead of making the breakout pass from his own zone, he’s racing to catch the next plane at the airport.
Howe, the most talented hockey player among Gordie’s kids, went to the Stanley Cup Finals three times in skates. This year, he hopes to make it five times in Armani.
Nowadays, Mark Howe is the Director of Pro Scouting for the Red Wings—which means, especially at this time of the year, his job is to coordinate scouting of possible Red Wings opponents.
Fancy words meaning he has to criss-cross the country watching hockey games.
While the Red Wings were dispatching the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, Howe and his staff, which includes former Red Wing Pat Verbeek, were spreading themselves out, not knowing exactly who Detroit would face in Round Two.
As the Anaheim Ducks emerged as a possible opponent, thanks to jumping out to a 3-1 series lead over San Jose, Howe focused on the Ducks. He ended up attending all six of the Ducks’ playoff games in California.
Legalized spying. That’s what scouting is, basically.
But there comes a time, if your team advances far enough, when there’s no more scouting to be done. Just watching and hoping.
During last year’s Cup Finals, I trudged down to the Red Wings’ dressing room after Game One. With no more scouting to be done, Howe and Verbeek had joined coach Mike Babcock and his staff in the coaches’ room, adjacent to the locker room.
Babcock, despite a shutout win, was still wound up.
“They’re gonna give them a bunch of power plays, you can bet on it!” the coach barked as Howe and company looked on. A few choice words tumbled out of Babcock’s mouth as well.
During the game, I kept an eye on the Red Wings’ suite, filled with hockey intelligence.
Gordie Howe, no less. Scotty Bowman, no less. Kenny Holland, no less. Jimmy Devellano, no less. Steve Yzerman, no less.
And Mark Howe. No less.
They sat, scrunched together, in suits and ties, their work done, but not their worrying.
The stuffed shirts, as I called them, could only look on. Like expectant fathers.
Howe and Yzerman, of course, could relate to what was going on below them, on the Joe Louis Arena ice surface.
I was pulling so hard for the Red Wings to win the Cup in ‘95, which was 40 years exactly since their last one.
I knew it was Mark Howe’s last season as a player. What a way for him to go out, I thought—to win the Cup, 40 years after his dad last won it for the Red Wings. And just a couple weeks after his 40th birthday.
Mark was born just weeks after dad Gordie’s Wings won the ‘55 Cup.
Game One in '95 was played, appropriately, on Father’s Day weekend.
But the Devils would have none of sentiment and nostalgia.
They swept the Red Wings, using a suffocating trap.
Mark retired, Cup-less.
But then he went to work in the Red Wings’ scouting department, and his name got engraved on the Cup after all.
Four times, in fact.
It’s not the same, of course. It never is the same. Ask any former player. There’s nothing like winning the Cup, in uniform, in skates, and parading the chalice around the rink.
Your name can be engraved, but if it wasn’t because of toil, tears, and sweat on the ice, it’s just not the same.
Not that it doesn’t mean something, of course.
The Red Wings signed Mark Howe in the summer of 1992. Finally, at age 37, he was coming home to play NHL hockey in Detroit.
He had played junior hockey in town, as a member of the Junior Red Wings, but when it came time to turn pro, Mark was not Red Wings property.
The Houston Aeros, of the World Hockey Association, owned Mark and brother Marty’s rights.
Then old man Gordie joined them, in 1973.
Mark and the clan could have come back several years later, after mom Colleen (who passed away earlier this year) tried to broker a deal that would bring the Howes back to Detroit after their exile to the WHA.
The Norris family, who owned the team at the time, would have none of it, for whatever reason.
It’s almost over now for Mark Howe—the miles in the sky, the reporting, the advance work needed to prepare Babcock and his staff for the next opponent.
If the Red Wings escape the Blackhawks in the conference finals, Howe will end up back in the team management suite for the Finals, another stuffed shirt.