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Hull, Mikita, Gretzky on their encounters with Howe

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks

#99 Wayne Gretzky on why he was #99...

"I was five when my dad said, 'Watch this guy on Detroit'. No. 9. that was the start. Went for a haircut when I was seven or eight and asked the barber to give me a Gordie Howe haircut. That's why I wore 99. Two times Gordie.

I had a dinner in New York with Gordie and Bobby Hull. I'm a nobody. All of a sudden, who comes over to our table but [Muhammad] Ali? This is pretty cool, I'm thinking. Now Gordie and Ali are both gone in the same week.


In his 2011 autobiography, “Forever a Blackhawk,” Stan Mikita told of an early introduction to Gordie Howe...

I was a hellion as a rookie. I didn’t fully grasp what Glenn Hall meant about calming down until I had my first encounter with Gordie Howe. We were playing the Red Wings and the two of us were scuffling for the puck in the corner. I went to lift up his stick and I missed it.

The toe of my blade glanced off his glove and caught him on his cheek, right under his eye. He started bleeding and wiped it off with his finger. Then he looked around to see who did it.

Naturally, because I thought I was God’s gift to hockey, I yapped at him. I had a smirk on my face and said something about how he was an old man who didn’t belong on the ice. Something real smart. Me and my big mouth.

We went into the locker room for intermission after the period ended and Ted Lindsay, a former linemate of Howe’s in Detroit, came over to talk to me. “Maybe you shouldn’t have done that,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Don’t you know who that is?” He said. I told Ted it was an accident. I didn’t mean to cut the great Gordie Howe. “No,” said Lindsay. “I don’t mean that. I mean the way you were talking to him. Maybe you shouldn’t have done that.”

I thought about what Lindsay said. Maybe I really screwed up. But then I figured, ah, the hell with it. Howe will forget what happened. Big mistake.

As Hall told me, hockey players wait and pick their spot, and later on that season, Gordie Howe picked his. We were crossing paths at center ice and the next thing I knew, I was down on all fours. My head hurt and I didn’t know what had hit me. Amazingly, nobody seemed to know what had hit me, including the referee.

I hobbled over to the bench, seeing stars the whole time, when I felt a couple sets of arms under my armpits. I was thrown back onto the ice by a couple guys who said, “Go back with your own team.” Those couple guys were Gordie’s teammates. I was so dazed, I had tried to sit down on the wrong bench.

I finally made it over to our bench. I still don’t know if it was Gordie’s elbow or his bare hand. But I know how I felt. In those days, they used to say you had your bell rung. Nowadays, it might be called a concussion. Anyway, I was back taking my regular shift before long and I need no further introductions to Gordie Howe. I was well acquainted with him at that point.


Bobby Hull on playing against – and with – Gordie Howe...

In an oddity – but not a trivia item by any measure – Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull played as teammates with the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers. Howe also played with his sons, Mark and Marty, on that team.

Gordie, wearing the no. 9 sweater, played 80 games at age 51, scoring 15 goals and 26 assists. That was his last season in the National Hockey League, the Whalers having joined the NHL that year along with three other franchises from the defunct World Hockey Association.

Hull wore no. 16 with the whalers – his first number with the blackhawks – but played only nine games for them, with two goals and five assists. Hull had been traded to Hartford from the Winnipeg Jets, another of the new teams from the WHA, for future considerations.

Like Howe, Hull did not play again in the NHL after the 1979-80 season, although Bobby later attempted a comeback with the New York Rangers.

“Gordie played right wing for the Red Wings, I was left wing for the Blackhawks,” recalled Hull. “So, many a time, we were on the ice against each other. Back in the days of the Original Six, we would play 14 games every season against every one of the other five franchises. Gordie and I saw a lot of each other, and I like to think we developed a mutual respect. I know he was one of the greatest players I ever competed against, and as I said at a dinner not long ago honoring Gordie, 'I enjoyed every high-sticking minute of it.' I was always ten years younger than him. As time went on, it became Gordie always being ten years older than me. He was strong as a bull and tougher than a night in jail.”

In the 1968 All-Star Game, the last year when the defending Stanley Cup champions played against the rest of the league, Hull and Howe were teammates on the All-Stars facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto. Howe wore no. 9, Hull no. 10.

“It was nice finally having Gordie on my side,” recalled Hull. "He was no fun playing against.”

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