Mark Howe considers himself lucky to have earned induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but as special as the day of his enshrinement among the game's immortals will be, there's one important reason he feels blessed to have it happen at this point in his life.
"My only thought to the whole thing was that if it does happen, I would just like my father to still be on this earth," Howe told NHL.com. "Dad's here, dad knows about it."
The man he calls "Dad" is known to the rest of the hockey world as Gordie Howe, and on Nov. 14, he'll know what the rest of the hockey world already does -- that Mark has earned his spot alongside Joe Nieuwendyk, Ed Belfour and Doug Gilmour in the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2011.
The Howes will join Bobby and Brett Hull, and Lester, Lynn and Craig Patrick as the only father-and-son tandems in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Mark Howe first announced his talent as a star in the Ontario Hockey Association -- the forerunner to today's Ontario Hockey League -- and as a 16-year-old he helped the United States win the silver medal at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.
"Howe was such a smooth player. He did so many little things well. He can play half the game. You can't say enough about him. He was a great, great player. One of the greatest players I ever played with." -- Dave Brown, former teammate of Mark Howe
At 18, Mark signed with the Houston Aeros of the WHA -- it was a package deal that saw Mark, Marty and Gordie head to Texas to play on the same line. Playing his natural left wing spot, Mark won the WHA Rookie of the Year award in his first season, and the next season led all playoff performers with 10 goals and 23 points to help the Aeros win the 1975 Avco Cup
In six seasons in the WHA with Houston and the Boston Whalers, Mark averaged 35 goals and 84 points -- numbers even more impressive when you realize he split his time between left wing and defense.
"I played left wing basically my whole life, until I was 23, 24 years of age," Howe said. "(Coach) Billy Dineen, when we played in Houston, put me back (on defense) for about 30 games one year because we had injury problems and needed somebody back there."
He became a full-time defenseman during the 1979-80 season with Hartford, his first in the NHL following the NHL/WHA merger, but it almost became a very short run thanks to a freak accident during a game against the New York Islanders on Dec. 27, 1980. Howe was chasing a puck in his zone when he was bumped by the Isles' John Tonelli, with Howe falling feet-first into the goal.
In those days, the back of the goal was held in place by a metal spike that stuck out of the ice a few inches. Howe's skates lifted the back of the goal off the ice, and the exposed piece of metal pierced his buttock, narrowly missing his spinal column, which could have paralyzed him.
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Howe rushed back after 17 games, but wasn't the same player.
"I lost 25 pounds over four days," he said. "It took me a month to get out of bed. I came back way too soon to try and help play."
His play slipped and Howe became unhappy in Hartford. He told Whalers general manager Larry Pleau he would waive his no-trade clause for a deal to one of four teams -- the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers.
"The tough part about playing in Hartford the last couple years, we were playing on a team that wasn't in the playoffs," Howe said. "We weren't winning and I'd spent my whole life on teams that won. It would kill me. Not that I loved to win, but I did hate to lose. It took the fun out of the game. The fun of the game is winning. You can put up with a lot of stuff from any coach or anybody when you're winning. And the management of the Whalers were disgruntled with me and I became equally disgruntled with them. I just wanted an opportunity to get to a good hockey club and get back to enjoying what I had enjoyed for every year prior to that."
On Aug. 19, 1982, Howe got his wish -- he was traded to the Flyers, along with a 1983 third-round draft pick, for Ken Linseman, Greg Adams and Philadelphia's first- and third-round picks in 1983.
The trade remains one of the best in Philadelphia history, as Howe spent 10 years as the backbone on teams that went to a pair of Stanley Cup Finals, and he is regarded as the best defenseman in team history. He was a three-time runner-up for the Norris Trophy (1983, 1986, 1987), and is the Flyers' all-time leader among defensemen in goals (138), assists (342) and points (480), in just 594 games.
"I played with Ray Bourque, had the chance to play with Paul Coffey," Flyers teammate Rick Tocchet told NHL.com, "but that stretch he, to me, was the best defenseman those years."
"Howe was such a smooth player," added another Philadelphia teammate, Dave Brown. "He did so many little things well. He can play half the game. You can't say enough about him. He was a great, great player. One of the greatest players I ever played with. Probably the best defenseman I ever played with, arguably. I'm not taking anything away from the other guys I played with, but he was such a smooth player. He did so much for us."
Howe believes he went from being a good player to a great one when he arrived in Philadelphia for one simple reason -- someone actually took the time to teach him how to play defense.
"We'd review the video tape and I would usually take a good play from each one of (the defensemen) and a play I'd like to have everyone look at and see what we could have done differently," Van Impe told NHL.com. "It was kind of surprising that to me here I've got the best defenseman in the group that I was working with and he was the one that was most receptive to the whole program of looking at it and seeing what could be done differently to change the result. He was the easiest to work with and the premiere defenseman on the team."
With Van Impe's help, Howe developed into one of the League's best blueliners. In a three-season span, from 1984-87, Howe was a combined plus-193, including a plus-85 mark in 1985-86 that led the League and is the eighth-best single-season mark in League history. Howe also had 24 goals and 82 points, second among NHL defensemen that season, and he finished not only second in the Norris voting, but second to Wayne Gretzky for the Hart Trophy.
In that tremendous span in Philadelphia, Howe was paired with Brad McCrimmon, and together they formed arguably the NHL's best defense pairing during the 1980s. From 1984-87, they were a combined plus-393.
"We had a great chemistry," Howe said. "We roomed together -- we basically did everything together. It was great. You never had to think the game; everything was instinct. We knew where each other was going to be."
Howe brought his hockey life full circle when he left Philadelphia as a free agent and signed with the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 1992. He played his final three seasons with the Wings, where he helped a young group of defensemen, including Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov, reach the 1995 Stanley Cup Final, the Wings' first trip to the League's championship series since 1966.
Howe retired that summer with 742 points in 929 NHL games. When you add his WHA stats, he had 1,246 points in 1,355 games in 22 seasons.
He's worked in the Red Wings' scouting department since retiring, and has been the Director of Pro Scouting since 2005. And while he missed winning the Stanley Cup as a player, he's been a part of four titles with the Red Wings.
Howe has been eligible for the Hall since 1998, but now, 31 years after he last was on a team with his father, they'll be together again.
"There was a lot of people saying you deserve to be there, and I said if it happens, it happens," Howe said. "Obviously it means a tremendous amount to anybody to receive this honor, but it means that much more to have my dad around to enjoy it with me."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK