In this week’s The Grind Line, we pay special tribute to Gordie “Mr. Hockey” Howe and share some of our greatest memories of number 9.
Summing up the life of Gordie Howe into an introduction of an article is like explaining how one becomes so deeply connected with their favorite team. Sports just has a way of capturing our hearts and so did Gordie Howe.
I could sit here and discuss his career achievements, how Wayne Gretzky’s career is one of the few that can be argued to be better than Howe’s. He was the greatest of his generation; that is nearly inarguable. But Howe was so much more than statistics. He was soft hands, hard hits and a big heart.
Geoffrey Chiles: A Signed Howe Ornament
I was born with Cerebral Palsy and spent much of my childhood in the hospital, including five different surgeries. When I was 12 (just after the Wings’ second of two straight Cups in 1998), I was in the hospital for yet another heel-cord lengthening.
My Dad came to visit one morning when I was recovering and asked me if he could do anything to cheer me up. He recalled that I said something to the effect of, “see the Wings win another Stanley Cup.” He smiled and said that even though he couldn’t accomplish that, he would think of something.
Later that year at Christmas, while I’m ripping open my presents, I find a Howe Christmas ornament. It was a figurine of Gordie, about five inches tall, with a Wings jersey on, and a stick in his hand, almost as if the sculptor caught him in a pose playing on the ice.
“How did you get this?” I said in amazement.
“Gordie was doing a signing at a shopping mall in Jackson,” my Dad said. “I picked up the ornament inside the store. I stood in line for hours, craning my neck around every twist and turn, hoping to catch a glimpse of him while praying the line got shorter. Gordie was sitting at the table up ahead. Just as I was about to get my turn, a security guard blocked my path and pulled the velvet rope across.”
“That’s all for today,” he said.
“Mr. Howe,” I pleaded, “my son is in the hospital and it would really raise his spirits if you could sign this!”
“Let him in,” he said.
My Dad said not only did Gordie sign the figurine, he chatted with my Dad for a few minutes and asked about his son’s love for the Red Wings and for hockey.
To this day, the ornament remains in the original plastic and box.
Tony Wolak: Red Wings Locker Room Visits
It’s no secret that Howe touched thousands—if not millions—of lives in his time as an NHL player or an ambassador to the game once he retired. After Mr. Hockey passed away on Friday, social media was filled with countless stories about how Howe impacted people everywhere. It’s truly an impossible task to quantify the overall impact Howe had on the game throughout his life.
My favorite story of Howe was not a personal one, nor a one-time occurrence. It was the countless times Mr. Hockey (and Ted Lindsay) would stop into the Red Wings locker room just to share his wisdom—or discontent—with the current team.
Mike Babcock recounted a story on NHL Network the day that Howe passed away. During the 2005-06 season, the Red Wings steamrolled through the regular season, winning 58 games along the way. After a rare loss, Howe noticed a younger player taking the loss a little too lightly than he would have liked. He informed Babcock of this and the coach replied, asking what he should do to remedy the situation.
“Oh, nothing. I already took care of it,” Howe responded.
Mike Babcock on Gordie Howe's passing https://t.co/F3KtHU6k5s
— ameena (@Canuckgirl20) June 11, 2016
There aren’t too many parallels to compare Howe’s impact on generations of Red Wings players. Imagine Warren Buffet strolling into a brokerage firm just to share his wealth of knowledge. Howe always stopped in because he loved the game and wanted to help. It’s just another great example of Howe’s selfless nature.
Jacob Messing: Endless Mr. Hockey Stories
The truth is I’m not old enough to have my own Howe story. On a rather long list of celebrities and athletes—specifically hockey players—I regret to say that Howe isn’t included on that list.
However, growing up in a hockey family, I heard endless stories from my father and grandfather about Mr. Hockey. From the first Gordie Howe Hat-trick to his one-game stint with the Detroit Vipers in 1997 when he was 69 years old and told reporters before the game if he scores three he’s staying. Howe’s name ruled hockey for parts of six decades.
I remember the stories from my grandfather how Howe would always get his man. Whether five minutes later to five years later, if Gordie felt you did him wrong he would seek to make it right.
My grandfather was eerily similar to Mickey Redmond, always talking about how players had respect in the gold ole days; which my grandfather described almost word for word in Howe’s This Is SportsCenter commercial.
I won’t go on with the endless antics of Gordie my family has shared with me, but I do feel it necessary to acknowledge the flood of stories that surfaced on the Internet upon the reports of his death.
He touched so many hearts and inspired so many players that any article written on his behalf could continue into tomorrow regardless of when you began reading this.
Gary Lawless of TSN.ca shared his own Gordie Story, in which Howe walked into an elevator and threw some elbows into him and a friend; that is also a great read.
Brandon Peleshok: Humbled by Mr. Hockey
Discussing a hockey legend the caliber of Gordie Howe without actually getting the opportunity to watch him play is a difficult task. While I cannot speak on my personal experiences regarding Mr. Hockey’s impact on the ice, I was lucky enough to meet him a few times at various book signings and autograph sessions.
One such event occurred when Gordie was signing copies of “Nine: A Salute to Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe” during the 2008-09 season. I cannot recall the score of the game that night, or the Red Wings’ opponent. What I remember was Mr. Hockey’s sense of humor and the impact he had on my sense of fashion.
I stepped up to get my copy of the book signed and asked Mr. Howe how someone was able to create a pen capable of withstanding his vice-like grip. When he looked back up, he grinned and quipped, “Nice jacket. Do you have any mob connections? You look like pretty a tough guy.”
The coat in question was a Danier leather jacket that I probably had no business trying to pull off. I shook my head and asked if I could shake his hand. As taught from a young age, I looked Gordie in the eye and gave him a firm handshake. He responded by crushing my right hand without breaking a sweat and followed it up with an “easy on the mitts, pal.”
With my hand throbbing and a grin I could not wipe off my face, I returned to my seat. His legendary charm and sense of humor were exactly as advertised. As I reflected on my meeting with Mr. Hockey, one final thought popped into my head–it was time for a new coat.
The Howe Family has opened Joe Louis Arena to the public, Tuesday, June 14th from 9am-9pm where you can pay your respects to Howe.
What’s your fondest memory of Gordie Howe? Share in the comments below.