"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for outdoor parks. I played outdoors until I was about 14 years of age before I was on artificial ice. I just think when you're skating outdoors, the ice is so smooth, you can fly on it." -- Gordie Howe
At least that's how Gordie Howe remembers it. And it's also why one of hockey's living legends can appreciate the buildup to the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park in Boston on New Year's Day when the Bruins play host to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Howe was in Newark with his son, Mark, on Monday to take in all the sights and sounds of the Devils' 3-2 victory against the Atlanta Thrashers at Prudential Center. Not only did he receive a standing ovation when his picture appeared on the center ice scoreboard, but both Howes took some time to talk outdoor hockey with NHL.com.
"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for outdoor parks," Gordie Howe, 81, said. "I played outdoors until I was about 14 years of age before I was on artificial ice. I just think when you're skating outdoors, the ice is so smooth, you can fly on it.
"I don't know why it feels that way. Maybe it's because you're moving faster to keep warm," Howe said with a smile. "But when I was growing up in (Saskatoon) Saskatchewan, we had all these sloughs that would hold water. The pools would be three-or-four feet deep, but were a quarter-mile long when they froze together. When that froze over, we'd go out there all day and score goals."
It was upon those frozen sloughs where Howe honed his skills and hockey sense on the way to becoming one of the most influential athletes in sports history.
He loves the idea of the Winter Classic because it brings back fond memories of those childhood days -- something players from both the Bruins and Flyers can certainly appreciate.
"I just say as long as there's ice and officials, why not play the game," Howe said. "More hockey players begin their careers outdoors than indoors. Well, maybe not as much today since there are so many rinks and arenas. But I don't think you'll find one player in the League who has never played outside at some point."
Mark Howe was a big fan of outdoor hockey growing up with three brothers in Detroit. He lived the rivalry between the Flyers and Bruins for 10 seasons as an NHL All-Star in Philadelphia -- where he established himself as one of hockey's finest two-way defensemen of the '80s.
Mark and his wife, Ginger, still reside in Philadelphia and have three children -- Travis, Nolan and Azia.
"The biggest thing I remember was the first time I played in a game against Boston as a member of the Flyers (during the 1982-83 season)," Mark Howe told NHL.com. "We went up to Boston and a bunch of guys were out to dinner the night before. They asked me if I was a part of this before and I said, 'No,' and they said, 'Be ready because once the puck drops, things start flying.'
"Man, were they right. And things did fly -- two rough-and-tough tumble teams with a lot of skilled players going at it. It just created some exciting hockey, so it was fun to be a part of it."
One day prior to the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago, in which Detroit defeated the Blackhawks, Mark Howe was grateful family members of both teams involved were invited to join in a skate on the outdoor surface with coaches.
"With the 10-to-11 Swedes we had playing, they didn't know much about baseball over here but it was important to them to have family there," Howe recalled. "Detroit was good because they let everyone bring in their families and wives and kids and mothers and fathers. It was something the players really appreciated.
"Besides that, when do you ever have a chance to skate with your family outdoors on a professional ice surface."
Mark Howe, who is currently in his 15th season as part of the Red Wings front office staff, is glad he's been able to show dad a good time over the holidays.
"He doesn't get much of a chance to see a lot of guys play so I know when I'm in Detroit, he likes to come to games with me," Howe said. "This was the first time he's been to a game (at Prudential Center) with me. We were in Hershey (Pa.) on Sunday and we'll come back and catch a couple more games later in the week. Then I'm going to take him out to my brother (Marty Howe) up in Hartford and we'll spend 10-to-14 days there before he heads back home. I'm just trying to spend some time with him at Christmas time. It's the first time without mom around, so it's been kind of tough on him."
Howe's wife of 56 years, Colleen, was diagnosed with Pick's disease, an incurable neurological disease that causes dementia, in 2002. She died March 6, 2009, at their home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org