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Howe, Gordie

Gordie Howe

1928-

Canadian hockey player

Often called "Mr. Hockey," Gordie Howe is acknowledged as one of the best-ever all-around players in the history of the sport. Fast and powerful on the ice, with the ability to shoot the puck left- or right-handed, Howe set records during his career with the National Hockey League's (NHL) Detroit Red Wings that included most goals scored during the regular season, most winning goals scored, most seasons played, and most regular-season games played. The right-wing offenseman also scored the most career points (goals plus assists) for any player in his position. Howe burnished his own legend by coming out of retirement to play in the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1973 alongside his sons, Marty and Mark. During his six seasons in the WHA with the Houston Aeros and New England Whalers, Howe helped to popularize hockey in the growing sports markets of the

American Sunbelt. He returned for one last season in the NHL when the Whalers became the Hartford Whalers, and retired as a professional athlete in 1980. In the decades since then, he has continued to promote an array of philanthropic efforts and manage his own business interests with his wife, Colleen. In 2002 Howe cut back on his public appearances to care for his wife, who had been diagnosed with Pick's Disease, a form of dementia that causes memory loss and behavioral changes.

A Childhood on the Canadian Prairie

Born in the small farming town of Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada on March 31, 1928, Gordon Howe grew up in nearby Saskatoon with his eight brothers and sisters. His father, Albert Howe, had just given up a life of farming at the time of his son's birth and subsequently worked as a mechanic and construction worker, finally achieving the position of superintendent of maintenance for the City of Saskatoon. Money was tight in the Howe household during the Great Depression and his mother, Katherine Schultz Howe, could sometimes only feed the family oatmeal porridge for each meal. When he was five years old, Gordie Howe developed a health-threatening calcium deficiency in part caused by his family's poverty. In addition to taking vitamins to correct the problem, Howe began to exercise regularly to improve his bone and muscle strength. His dedication to a demanding physical regimen would later prove crucial in the longevity of his career, particularly after suffering some major injuries during his first years in the NHL.

Like most boys growing up on the Canadian Prairie, Howe played hockey with his friends during the long winters on any frozen surface. He got his first pair of skates after his mother gave a dollar-and-a-half to a neighbor whose husband was hospitalized; in exchange, Mrs. Howe got a sack filled with assorted odd items, including a pair of skates. Although they were far too large for him, Howe put on several pairs of socks and spent all day out on the ice. After he outgrew them, Howe sometimes had to strap blades onto his street shoes in lieu of proper skates. Although he was at times embarrassed by his lack of equipment, Howe increasingly turned to hockey as his refuge as he was growing up. After failing the third grade twice, he was often the target of teasing at school and developed into an introverted teenager.

Chronology

1928 Born March 31 in Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada
1943 Plays for Saskatoon Lions
1946 Begins playing for Detroit Red Wings
1953 Marries Colleen Joffa
1971 Announces retirement from professional hockey
1973 Signs contract with World Hockey Association's Houston Aeros
1979 Returns to NHL with Hartford Whalers
1980 Retires from professional hockey
1997 Returns to play one game for Detroit Vipers

Awards and Accomplishments

1951-54, 1957 Art Ross Trophy as top scorer in NHL
1952-53, 1957-58, 1960, 1963 Hart Trophy as NHL's Most Valuable Player
1963 Named Canadian Athlete of the Year
1967 Lester Patrick Trophy, for service to U.S. hockey
1971 Received Order of Canada
1972 Induction into the International Hockey Hall of Fame
2001 Named Michiganian of the Year (with Colleen Howe) by Detroit News

Signs with the Red Wings

Howe's hockey team at King George Community School won its league championship in 1941, 1942, and 1944. Howe was also a member of the team at the King George Athletic Club, a sports center set up for the youth of Saskatoon's West End. The team made it all the way to the finals of Saskatechewan's bantam league in 1942, where it lost to Regina. Based on the teams' winning records, Howe attracted the attention of a New York Rangers scout in 1943 and he was invited to the team's training camp in Winnepeg that year. The experience overwhelmed the awkward fifteen-year-old, who quickly returned home. Within months, a scout from the Red Wings convinced Howe to attend his team's training camp. With the promise that some of his friends from Saskatoon would also be attending, Howe agreed to give it a try. He immediately demonstrated his promise in the training camp and the Red Wings signed him to a contract. Although Howe was supposed to finish high school while playing for the Galt, Ontario Red Wings in the 1944-45 season, he decided to end his formal education and instead work at a local metal works. The next year he was sent to the Omaha Knights for the full season at a salary of $2,200; with twenty-two goals and twenty-six assists in fifty-one games, Howe was brought up to the Red Wings for the 1946-47 season. He was eighteen years old and made $5,000 in his debut season in the NHL.

Howe was not a breakout star in his first season with the Red Wings. Although he played fifty-eight games, he scored just seven times and had fifteen assists. Teamed with left wing Ted Lindsay and veteran center Sid Abel in 1947, Howe about doubled his numbers to sixteen goals and twenty-eight assists in sixty games. The three players became known as the "Production Line," one of the best offensive lineups in the history of the sport. The Red Wings made it to the finals of the NHL championships at the end of the 1947-48 and 1948-49 seasons, but the team was routed both times by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who swept both titles.

Career Statistics

Yr Team GP G A Pts +/ PIM SOG SPCT
DET: Detroit Red Wings (NHL); HOU: Houston Aeroes (WHA); WHAL: New England Whalers (WHA), then Hartford Whalers (NHL)
1946-47 DET 58 7 15 22 --- 52 --- ---
1947-48 DET 60 16 28 44 --- 63 --- ---
1948-49 DET 40 12 25 37 --- 57 --- ---
1949-50 DET 70 35 33 68 --- 69 --- ---
1950-51 DET 70 43 43 86 --- 74 --- ---
1951-52 DET 70 47 39 86 --- 78 --- ---
1952-53 DET 70 49 46 95 --- 57 --- ---
1953-54 DET 70 33 48 81 --- 109 --- ---
1954-55 DET 64 29 33 62 --- 68 --- ---
1955-56 DET 70 38 41 79 --- 100 --- ---
1956-57 DET 70 44 45 89 --- 72 --- ---
1957-58 DET 64 33 44 77 --- 40 --- ---
1958-59 DET 70 32 46 78 --- 57 --- ---
1959-60 DET 70 28 45 73 --- 46 --- ---
1960-61 DET 64 23 49 72 --- 30 --- ---
1961-62 DET 70 33 44 77 --- 54 --- ---
1962-63 DET 70 38 48 86 --- 100 --- ---
1963-64 DET 69 26 47 73 --- 70 --- ---
1964-65 DET 70 29 47 76 --- 104 --- ---
1965-66 DET 70 29 46 75 --- 83 --- ---
1966-67 DET 69 25 40 65 --- 53 --- ---
1967-68 DET 74 39 43 82 +12 53 311 13.0
1968-69 DET 76 44 59 103 +45 58 283 15.5
1969-70 DET 76 31 40 71 +23 58 268 11.6
1970-71 DET 63 23 29 52 -2 38 195 11.8
1973-74 HOU 70 31 69 100 --- 46 --- ---
1974-75 HOU 75 34 65 99 --- 84 --- ---
1975-76 HOU 78 32 70 102 --- 76 --- ---
1976-77 HOU 62 24 44 68 --- 57 --- ---
1977-78 WHAL 76 34 62 96 --- 85 --- ---
1978-79 WHAL 58 19 24 43 --- 51 --- ---
1979-80 WHAL 80 15 26 41 +9 42 94 16.0
TOTAL 1767 801 1049 1850 --- 1685 --- ---

Four Stanley Cup Wins

The 1949-50 season was the first standout season of Howe's career. The Production Line of Lindsay, Abel, and Howe went one-two-three in that year's total points standings and the Red Wings made it to the championship against the New York Rangers. The finals produced a four-to-three games victory for the Wings, the team's first title in seven years. Unfortunately, Howe was not on the ice for the victory. In a playoff game against the Maple Leafs on March 28, 1950, Howe skidded into the boards while attempting to block an opponent; the freak mishap left him with a fractured nose and cheekbone, a lacerated eyeball, and a brain hemorrhage. After a surgeon drilled a hole through his skull to relieve the pressure from his brain, Howe's quick recovery astounded his doctors. Although his life had been in danger, the resilient Howe immediately announced that he would return to the Red Wings line up for the full 1951-52 season. Over the course of his career, the six-foot, two-hundred-eight pound hockey player would suffer from torn knee cartilage, a broken wrist, a dislocated shoulder, several concussions, numerous broken ribs and toes, and over three hundred stitches.

Howe began his run of four consecutive NHL scoring titles, symbolized by the Art Ross Trophy, in 1951; he won the title again in 1957. He added the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player to his collection in 1952, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1960, and 1963. Once again healthy for the 1952 Stanley Cup finals against Montreal, Howe helped the team to sweep the series in four games. The match was an early highlight of the legendary rivalry between the Red Wings and the Canadiens and between Howe and Maurice Richard , one of the most dynamic players of the day. Detroit would emerge as the winner in the 1954 and 1955 finals over Montreal, but the Canadiens took the Stanley Cup in 1956 over Detroit, the first of five consecutive championships for the team. Despite Howe's brilliance, the Red Wings would not win another Stanley Cup during his tenure with the team.

A series of poor trades by domineering Red Wings general manager Jack Adams sapped the team's strength from the mid-1950s onward. So too did his fury at the players for attempting to form a players' union. Ted Lindsay, who led such efforts in Detroit, was suddenly traded to the failing Chicago Blackhawks in 1957 in retribution. Howe, who was criticized for not speaking out in favor of the players' union at the time, later came to regret his unquestioning loyalty to Red Wings management. Although he earned about $20,000 in salary and up to $9,000 in bonuses in the late 1950s, it was only after the successful formation of the NHL Players' Association in 1967 that his salary climbed above $40,000. By that time Howe had assured himself of a place in the record books by breaking the all-time goal-scoring record held by Maurice Richard. On November 10, 1963, Howe scored his 545th goal in a game against the Canadiens. He went on to score 801 goals in 1,767 NHL games over twenty-six seasons.

Comes Out of Retirement

At the end of the 1970-71 season, Howe announced that he was retiring from the Red Wings after twenty-five seasons. Honored with the Order of Canada by his homeland's government in 1971, he was inducted into the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. Although Howe planned on entering the management ranks of the Red Wings, the arrangement turned out badly, in part because of tensions between the team's owner, Bruce Norris, and Colleen Howe, who took an increasingly active role in managing her husband's business affairs. After two unfulfilling years doing public relations work for the Red Wings, Howe laced up his skates again to play with the Houston Aeros in the upstart WHA. Alongside him were two of his sons, Marty and Mark, who were making their big-league debuts with the team. Howe played for the Aeros for four seasons before joining the New England Whalers for two more seasons. When the Whalers were incorporated into the NHL as the Hartford Whalers for the 1979-80 season, Howe racked up his twenty-sixth NHL season with eighty games, fifteen goals, and twenty-six assists. At the time of his second retirement as a professional athlete in 1980, Howe was fifty-two years old.

Related Biography: Wife Colleen Howe

Colleen Joffa was born in 1933 and spent part of her childhood in Sandusky, Michigan. After her parents' divorce, she moved with her mother and stepfather to Detroit, where she completed high school. She was working as a secretary at Bethlehem Steel when she first met Gordie Howe at the Lucky Strike bowling lanes on Grand River Avenue in Detroit in 1951. The couple dated for two years and married on April 15, 1953. They raised four children: future hockey players Marty and Mark, physician son Murray, and daughter, Cathy, who later worked for the family's business.

As the manager of her husband's business interests, Colleen Howe broke new ground in major-league sports. In addition to running Power Play International, Howe became an Amway distributor, sold life insurance, and even ran for U.S. Congress as a Republican candidate when the family lived in Connecticut. She was also a founder of the Detroit Junior Red Wings, the first junior-league hockey team in the United States. These accomplishments made her a pioneer in the sport of hockey, but sometimes brought her into conflict with the teams' owners and managers.

During her husband's retirement, Howe organized the couple's time around their philanthropic efforts, including the Howe Foundation. The first woman inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Howe was also honored as Michigan's Sportswoman of the Year in 1973. In 2002 Gordie Howe announced that Colleen was suffering from Pick's Disease, which causes sudden and debilitating dementia in its victims.

Where Is He Now?

Enjoying his second retirement since 1980, Howe returned to play a game in 1997 with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League. Although he played for less than a minute, Howe scored a goal and became the first hockey player to have played a game in each of six decades. Howe was sixty-nine years old at the time of his final professional hockey game.

From their home in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Howe and his wife, Colleen, conducted an extensive schedule of charity-raising appearances in the 1990s. In 2002 Howe disclosed that Colleen had been diagnosed with Pick's Disease, an incurable form of dementia that leads to behavioral changes and memory loss. "I've never had so many worries in my life," Howe admitted to the Detroit News in September 2002, "Sleepless nights. Every day is a constant reminder. What is, what was. Outside it's different, but inside it eats you up."

Philanthropic Efforts

Gordie and Colleen Howe had developed numerous business interests during his athletic career, but the couple was more often in the public eye for their philanthropic work. In honor of her husband's sixty-fifth birthday in 1993, Colleen Howe arranged a sixty-five city fundraising tour for a variety of charities, including the Howe Foundation and Howe Center for Youth Hockey Development. The recipient of numerous awards for her own philanthropic activities, Colleen Howe was named a Michiganian of the Year by the Detroit News

along with her husband in 2001. The following year, Gordie Howe revealed that his wife had been diagnosed with Pick's Disease, causing irreversible memory loss.

Sixth Decade of Hockey Playing

Although most of Howe's NHL records have been brokenmost famously, his all-time points record fell to Wayne Gretzky in 1989his status as one of the sport's best-ever players is unquestioned. Twenty years after his final retirement as a player, Howe also remains one of the most respected figures in any sport for his professionalism on the ice and his unassuming demeanor and dignity away from it. In October 1997 Howe returned to play one game with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League, making him the first hockey player to participate in a professional game in each of six decades. He played for less than a minute, but still managed to score a goal "I've been blessed with a lot of great moments," Howe told Neil Stevens of the Canadian Press with characteristic modesty at the end of the game, "And this was one of them."

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Diamond, Dan, ed. Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998.

Macskimming, Roy. Gordie: A Hockey Legend. Vancouver: GreyStone Books, 1994.

McFarlane, Brian. The Red Wings. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1998.

Periodicals

Green, Jerry. "Gordie Talks for First Time About Colleen's Dementia." Detroit News (September 26, 2002).

Other

"Mr. Hockey Biography." Mr. Hockey Official Web site. http://www.mrhockey.com/history/mr_hockey_bio.shtml (November 1, 2002).

"Mrs. Hockey Biography." Mr. Hockey Official Web site. http://www.mrhockey.com/history/mrs_hockey_bio.shtml (November 3, 2002).

Stevens, Neil. "Howe Skates Again!" Canoe/Canadian Press Web site. http://www.canoe.ca/IHL/howe_oct3.html (October 3, 1997).

Sketch by Timothy Borden

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Borden, Timothy. "Howe, Gordie." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Borden, Timothy. "Howe, Gordie." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (July 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900257.html

Borden, Timothy. "Howe, Gordie." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900257.html

Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe

Former professional hockey player Gordie Howe (born 1928) earned the distinction of the most durable player of all time, playing 26 seasons spanning five decades in the National Hockey League, and during that time was one of the game's most prolific scorers.

When Gordie Howe broke the National Hockey League (NHL) scoring record of Maurice "Rocket" Richard, the debate among hockey buffs was whether Richard or Howe was the best player of all time. Years later when Wayne Gretzky broke Howe's record, the debate was renewed, this time Gretzky versus Howe. Gretzky himself declared to Hal Quinn of Maclean's that Howe "is the best hockey player there ever was." Howe, for his part, told Jay Greenberg of Sports Illustrated, "If you want to tell me [Gretzky's] the greatest player of all time, I have no argument at all."

Howe was born in Floral, Saskatchewan on March 31, 1928. He was the fifth of nine children. At three months of age, his family moved to nearby Saskatoon where his father was a mechanic, laborer, and construction worker. The family was poor as many of their neighbors were during the Great Depression. Once when a neighbor was selling some used belongings to get some cash, Howe gained his first pair of skates. "She had a sack of stuff my mother bought for 50 cents, " Howe recalled, reported Larry Batson in his book Gordie Howe. "I dug into it and found some secondhand skates. I grabbed a pair for myself. They were so big I had to wear a couple extra pairs of socks." He was then about five years old.

Devoted to Hockey

Howe immersed himself in hockey, playing day in and day out throughout the year, using a puck, tennis ball, or even clumps of dirt. He was a big boy but was initially clumsy. He did not make it the first time he tried out for a local midget team. By the time he was 12 years old, however, Howe had developed into an excellent skater.

During the summers, Howe worked with his father at construction sites. He described it as "throwing concrete, " noted Batson. The heavy work helped give him the exceptional strength that he would use to develop one of the fastest shots in hockey. At the age of 15, Howe was a 6-foot 200-pounder, very big at that time for a hockey player.

Pro Tryouts

Howe had already caught the eye of the professional scouts and, when he was 15, the New York Rangers invited him to a tryout camp. The camp director, though, was unimpressed. "You're too awkward, son, " he remarked to Howe, reported Batson. "You'll never make the major leagues." Despite this rejection, the next year Howe landed a tryout with the Detroit Red Wings. Jack Adams, coach and general manager of the team, was definitely impressed by young Howe and signed him to a contract.

There was just one snag in the contract negotiations with Howe. Adams recalled, as Roy MacSkimming wrote in Saturday Night, "He looked at [the contract] but didn't sign it. So I asked him what was wrong, wasn't it enough money? He just looked at me and said 'I'm not sure I want to sign with your organization, Mr. Adams. You don't keep your word. You promised me a windbreaker and you never gave it to me.' You can imagine how quickly I got that windbreaker."

Howe, then 17 years old, was assigned to the Red Wings' minor-league farm team in Omaha, Nebraska. He had an excellent season and the next year was given a shot at making the major-league club. He made the Red Wings and in his first game gave a glimpse of what was to come. "Gordon Howe is the squad's baby, 18 years old, " Paul Chandler wrote about the contest, as E.M. Swift of Sports Illustrated related. "But he was one of Detroit's most valuable men last night. In his first major league game, he scored a goal, skated tirelessly and had perfect poise. The goal came in the second period, and he literally powered his way through the players from the blue line to the goalmouth."

Production Line

It was in 1947 that new Red Wings' coach Tommy Ivan put together the Production Line, a forward line consisting of Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Sid Abel. According to MacSkimming, it was "the most successful, exciting, and dominant attacking line of its era." The three had an "instinctive rapport."

It took Howe three seasons to "mature" as a professional, wrote William Barry Furlong of the New York Times. He scored a total of 35 goals those first three years "or as many goals as he scored in his fourth year alone." From that point on, Howe was a consistent scorer. "Beginning in 1949-50, " Swift noted, "Gordie Howe started a string in which for 20 consecutive years—two solid decades—he finished among the top five scorers of the NHL."

A Serious Accident

In 1950, though, Howe's career almost came to an abrupt end. In the first playoff game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Howe collided with Toronto's Ted Kennedy and flew head first into the sideboards. His skull was fractured and he suffered a concussion. He also had his cheekbone and nose broken. In the hospital, surgeons had to operate to relieve the pressure on his brain. He was in critical condition for days.

The next season Howe came back. The question was, would he still have the same fire and aggressiveness that he had before? Howe responded by playing in every game and by leading the NHL in goals, assists, and total points that season.

League Leader

Leading the league in scoring became a regular occurrence for Howe. He won the scoring title six times. He was selected the NHL's Most Valuable Player six times. Howe's emergence as a star also led to his team's emergence as a consistent winner. From 1949 to 1955, the Detroit Red Wings won the league title seven straight times and were Stanley Cup playoff champions four times.

In 1951, Howe met Colleen Joffa at a bowling alley where the players liked to hang out. Afterwards, reported Batson, the owner asked her, "How did you like meeting a celebrity?" "Who's a celebrity?" she answered. She had never heard of Howe. However, she did see and hear from him quite often after that, and in 1953, the two were married. They would eventually have four children: Martin, Mark, Cathy, and Murray. The boys soon became involved in youth hockey.

Religious Hockey

Throughout his career, Howe was a proponent of "what he called 'religious hockey': it's better to give than to receive, " wrote Trent Frayne of Maclean's. He was a feared figure on the ice. "Due to his sharp elbows and quick stick, foes considered him sneaky-mean and steered clear of even accidental altercations, " Joe LaPointe of Sport magazine noted. "Howe is everything you'd expect the ideal athlete to be, " an opposing player said to Furlong. "He's soft-spoken, deprecating and thoughtful. He's also the most vicious, cruel and mean man I've ever met in a hockey game." But another hockey great, Bobby Hull of the Chicago Black hawks, defended Howe. Hull asserted, wrote Jim Vipond in his book Gordie Howe Number 9, "Howe is not the demon some people say. If you want to play hockey, he'll play. He just wants to play hockey, but if guys want to fool around they always come out second best."

With the flying elbows and flying pucks of hockey, and no helmets during this time, facial cuts and stitches were a very normal hazard of the game. Howe estimated that he had received 300 stitches in his face, Furlong reported. "I had 50 stitches in my face one year—that was a bad year, " Howe said. "I had only 10 stitches taken last year—that was a good year."

Joined His Sons

Howe surpassed Maurice Richard's scoring record in 1963. By the time he retired from the Red Wings in 1971, at the age of 43, he had the records for goals, assists, and total points. He also had the record for most games played. He accepted a job in the team's front office. But, in 1973, when the Houston Aeros of the new World Hockey Association (WHA) signed his sons Marty and Mark, Howe asked about joining them. Playing on the same professional team as his sons had been a dream. He got himself back into shape and returned triumphantly, scoring 100 points, winning the league's Most Valuable Player award, and leading his team to the WHA championship.

Howe continued to play in the WHA through 1977. He moved to the Hartford Whalers and when that club was merged into the NHL in 1978, he was back for a second tour of duty in his old league. Howe's autobiography, And … Howe!: An Authorized Autobiography was published in 1995. He continued to make special appearances playing in charity games well into the 1990s.

Asked once why he kept playing, Furlong wrote, Howe remarked, "Well, the hours are good and the pay is excellent." And of his incredibly long career, he told Swift, "One of my goals was longevity: I guess I've pretty much got the lock on that." In September of 1997, at the age of 69, Howe announced he would play one game, the October 3 season opener, with the International Hockey League's Detroit Vipers. This would make him the only professional hockey player to play in six consecutive decades.

Further Reading

Batson, Larry, Gordie Howe, Amecus Street, 1974.

Vipond, Jim, Gordie Howe Number 9, Follett Publishing Company, 1968.

Maclean's, October 23, 1989, p. 62.

Maclean's, March 21, 1994, p. 49.

Furlong, William Barry, The New York Times Encyclopedia of Sports, Arno Press, 1979, pp. 165-167.

Saturday Night, November, pp. 62-68, 96.

Sport, May 1989, p. 60.

Sports Illustrated, October 23, 1989, pp. 50-53. □

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Howe, Gordie

Gordie Howe

Born: March 31, 1928
Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada

Canadian hockey player

Former professional hockey player Gordie Howe earned the fame of being the most durable player of all time, playing twenty-six seasons for five decades in the National Hockey League. During that time, he was one of the game's most productive scorers.

Howe's youth in Canada

Gordie Howe was born in Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada, on March 31, 1928. He was the fifth of nine children. At three months of age his family moved to nearby Saskatoon, where his father worked as a mechanic, a laborer, and a construction worker to support his family. The family was poor, as were many of their neighbors during the Great Depression (a period in the 1930s where economic hardship led to a lack of jobs, and the majority of the people in the United States and Canada were living in poverty). As a result Gordie was often sick as a child because of poor nutrition. He was also painfully shy and awkwarda problem that he would face throughout his adulthood. Gordie's significant moment came when a neighbor sold a sack of used belongings to his mother for cash. When they opened the bag, the first thing that he saw was a pair of skates. Five-year-old Gordie had received his first pair of skates.

Devoted to hockey

Howe immersed himself in hockey, playing day in and day out throughout the year, using a puck, a tennis ball, or even clumps of dirt. He was a big boy but was clumsy in his youth. He did not make it the first time he tried out for a local youth hockey team. By the time he was twelve years old, however, Howe had developed into an excellent skater.

During the summers, Howe worked with his father at construction sites. He described it as "throwing concrete." The heavy work helped him develop the exceptional strength that he would one day use to make himself one of the fastest shots in hockey. At the age of fifteen Howe was a 6-foot, two-hundred-pounder, very big at that time for a hockey player.

Pro tryouts

Howe had already caught the eye of the professional scouts (people who gather information about players not yet in professional sports). When he was fifteen, the New York Rangers invited him to a tryout camp. The camp director, though, was unimpressed. He felt Howe was too awkward and would not make it in the major leagues. Despite this rejection, Howe landed a tryout with the Detroit Red Wings the next year. Jack Adams, coach and general manager of the team, was definitely impressed by young Howe and signed him to a contract.

Howe, then seventeen years old, was assigned to the Red Wings' minor league farm team in Omaha, Nebraska. He had an excellent season, and the next year he was given a shot at making the major-league club. He made the Red Wings, and in his first game gave a sample of what was to come. He scored a goal, skated tirelessly, and had perfect control. His goal came in the second period, and he literally powered his way through the players from the blue line to make the goal.

It took Howe three seasons to "mature" as a professional. He scored a total of thirty-five goals those first three years. From that point on, Howe was a consistent scorer. Starting in 1949 and 1950, Howe was one of the NHL's top scorers, which he continued to be for two decades.

A serious accident

In 1950, though, Howe's career almost came to an abrupt end. In the first playoff game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Howe collided with Toronto's Ted Kennedy and flew head first into the sideboards. His skull was fractured and he suffered a concussion (a brain injury caused by a hard blow). He also had his cheekbone and nose broken. In the hospital, surgeons had to operate to relieve the pressure on his brain. He was in critical condition for days.

The next season Howe came back. The question was, would he still have the same fire and aggressiveness that he had before? Howe responded by playing in every game and by leading the NHL in goals, assists, and total points that season.

League leader

Leading the league in scoring became a regular occurrence for Howe. He won the scoring title six times. He was selected the NHL's Most Valuable Player six times. Howe's development as a star also led to his team's development as consistent winners. From 1949 to 1955 the Detroit Red Wings won the league title seven straight times, and they were Stanley Cup playoff champions four times.

In 1951 Howe met Colleen Joffa, and in 1953 the two were married. They would eventually have four children: Martin, Mark, Cathy, and Murray. The boys soon became involved in youth hockey.

Throughout his career Howe was a supporter of self-defense on the ice to avoid getting hurt. He was a feared figure on the ice. He had sharp elbows and a quick stick. Some thought him to be sneaky and players kept out of his way. Howe was everything one would expect the ideal athlete to be: he was intelligent, demanding, and hardworking. He was not a person to take any abuse from other players. If they tried to intimidate him, they ended up on the "short end of the stick." His number one goal was to play good, hard hockey.

With the flying elbows and flying pucks that come with hockey, and no helmets at the time, facial cuts and stitches were common in the game. Howe estimated that he had received three hundred stitches in his face.

Joined his sons

Howe surpassed Maurice "Rocket" Richard's (19212000) scoring record in 1963. By the time he retired from the Red Wings in 1971 at the age of forty-three, he held the records for goals, assists, and total points. He also had the record for most games played. He accepted a job in the team's front office. But in 1973, when the Houston Aeros of the new World Hockey Association (WHA) signed his sons Marty and Mark, Howe asked about joining them. Playing on the same professional team as his sons had been a dream. He got himself back into shape and returned triumphantly, scoring one hundred points, winning the league's Most Valuable Player award, and leading his team to the WHA championship.

Howe continued to play in the WHA through 1977. He moved to the Hartford Whalers and when that team was combined into the NHL in 1978, he was back for a second tour of duty in his old league. Howe's autobiography, And Howe!: An Authorized Autobiography was published in 1995. He continued to make special appearances playing in charity games well into the 1990s.

In September of 1997, at the age of sixty-nine, Howe announced he would play one game, the October 3 season opener, with the International Hockey League's Detroit Vipers. His one-shift stint made him the only professional hockey player to play in six different decades.

The Howes continue to be involved in charitable activities and live an active lifestyle. In 2001 the couple was honored when a school in Abbotsford, Canada, was named the Colleen and Gordie Howe Middle School. In January 2002 they carried the Olympic torch through Detroit, Michigan, for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Best hockey player of all time?

When Gordie Howe broke Maurice "Rocket" Richard's National Hockey League (NHL) scoring record, the debate was whether Richard or Howe was the best player of all time. Years later when Wayne Gretzky (1961) broke Howe's record, the debate was renewedthis time Gretzky versus Howe. The debate still continues.

For More Information

Cotsonika, Nick. Hockey Gods. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2002.

Howe, Gordie. My Hockey Memories. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 1999.

Howe, Gordie, and Colleen Howe. AndHowe!: An Authorized Autobiography. Traverse City, MI: Power Play Publications, 1995.

MacSkimming, Roy. Gordie: A Hockey Legend. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books, 1994.

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Howe, Gordie

Gordie Howe (Gordon Howe), 1928–, Canadian hockey player. One of the great forwards in the game's history, he played with the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League (1947–71), leading the league in scoring six times and winning Most Valuable Player honors six times. He then retired, but in 1973, with his sons Mark and Marty, joined the new World Hockey Association (WHA). He won the WHA's Most Valuable Player award in 1974 and retired again in 1980 as the career professional leader in goals (801) and assists (1,049); both records have since been broken by Wayne Gretzky.

See his autobiography (2014).

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