The term “legend” is tossed around casually these days. Gordie Howe belongs in a stratosphere above mere legends. Howe is a hockey god and remains a revered, mythical figure to this day.
“Mr. Hockey” turned 87 today. Thirty-two of those years were spent pushing his body through grueling seasons in the NHL and the WHA. If there was a Mount Rushmore of hockey icons, Gordie’s chiseled face would stand front, center and perhaps with an elbow aloft.
In 1946 at the tender age of 17, Howe was baptized into an era of hockey where only the toughest survived. Back then, Howe wore No. 17 prior to the No. 9 he would make famous. Gordie was determined to be the toughest cat on the ice. “Elbows Up Hockey” is what they called it. Gordie used his muscular physique, razor-sharp elbows, and pitchfork stick to fend off opponents. Many an opponent would have to pick up their Chiclets after being on the receiving end of Howe’s viciousness.
He was a tough man who thrived in a tough man’s game. Howe would slash, spear, and high-stick his way to create freedom on the ice. At 6-feet, 204-pounds, Howe was made of pure muscle and was an immovable object when carrying the puck. He dominated possession and demonstrated ambidextrous skill with his straight stick. He shot left-handed and right-handed with his uncurved blade.
Howe skated on the right side of the famed “Production Line” alongside two fellow Hall of Famers –left wing Ted Lindsay and center Sid Abel.
Between 1950 and 1955, Howe would lead the Red Wings’ dynasty to four Stanley Cup championships in six seasons.
Howe had an ability to stay on the ice longer than anyone else thanks to his lungs of steel.
“He could be on the ice so long,” legendary Montreal Canadiens center Jean Beliveau told Biography. “The stamina, the strength, his natural ability – to me, made him the player that he was. I’ve always had the feeling that he enjoyed playing the game so much. So, if you put all those great ingredients together, that makes (him) a superstar like he is. He’s in a class by himself.”
Howe still holds the following NHL and WHA records:
Most NHL regular season games played: 1,767
Most NHL regular season games played with a single team: 1,687
Most NHL and WHA regular season games played: 2,186
Most NHL and WHA regular season and playoff games played: 2,421
Most NHL seasons played: 26 (tied with Chris Chelios)
Most NHL and WHA seasons played: 32
Oldest player to play in NHL: 52 years, 11 days (no player has played beyond the age of 48)
Most NHL regular season goals by a right winger: 801
Most NHL regular season points by a right winger: 1,850
Most NHL regular season points by a father/son combo (with son Mark): 2,592
Most consecutive NHL 20-goal seasons: 22 (1949–1971)
First player to score over 1000 goals (WHA and NHL, regular season and playoff combined)
First player to reach 1,500 games played in NHL history
Most times leading NHL playoffs in scoring: 6
All-time Red Wings leader in points, goals and games played, second in assists
Most NHL All-Star Game appearances: 23
According to CBC’s Jeff Marek, Howe engaged in 22 career NHL fights. Many experts believe that Howe only achieved “The Gordie Howe Hat Trick” – a goal, an assist, and a fight in a single game twice in his career.
Howe won six Hart Trophies, six Art Ross Trophies, and was a 12-time NHL First-Team All-Star. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.
But soon after his induction, he would come out of retirement in 1973 to play alongside sons Mark and Marty for the Houston Aeros of the newly-formed WHA. Howe and the Aeros captured back-to-back WHA championships in 1974 and 1975.
When the WHA folded, Howe and the Hartford Whalers were admitted into the NHL in 1979. This would be Gordie’s final season.
Finally at 52, Howe hung up his skates after playing all 80 regular season games and three playoff games for the Whalers in their 1979-80 debut NHL season. Howe would score 15 goals and record 26 assists for 41 points in his final NHL season – not bad for a 52-year-old!
Happy 87th birthday to the great and immortal No. 9 – Gordon Howe.