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Who's Got the Howe?

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Gordie Howe hat tricks are far from the most common of hockey occurrences. Record keeping of the feat (a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game) is spotty; the San Jose Sharks are the only NHL team that bothers to list the franchise’s Gordie Howe hatters in their media guide. In the Sharks’ 14-year history, the team has had 21 hat tricks and just eight Gordie Howe Hat tricks.

alt There has been a minor outbreak of them recently, however. Anaheim's Shane O'Brien, Ottawa's Patrick Eaves and Phoenix's Georges Laraque each had a Gordie Howe hat trick in the season's first month. O'Brien, the irascible defenseman who was so impressive with the Portland Pirates during last spring's Calder Cup playoffs, has the neatest "trick" of the bunch. One-third of his Gordie Howe hat trick was also his first (and thus far only) NHL goal.

We’re not sure who coined the term "Gordie Howe hat trick" or when it happened. The whole thing seems kind of murky and mythic, actually. We recently took a very informal survey of the Capitals’ locker room. We wondered how many of the players we talked to could name the guys in the room who had achieved Gordie Howe hat tricks at the NHL level.

Alex Ovechkin has had two-thirds of the GHHT on several occasions. He had not heard of the feat and didn’t have any idea which Caps might have accomplished it. He expressed mild surprise (“Clymes? Yeah?”) when informed that Ben Clymer was the most recent Gordie Howe hatter, having picked one up last Feb. 3 vs. Toronto.

Although Clymer is the only guy in the room who had turned the trick as a member of the Capitals, few remembered right away that he had done so.

His fellow fraternity brothers knew, though. Both Chris Clark and Matt Bradley spit out Clymer’s name right away, even though both first mentioned other Caps (Matt Pettinger and Brian Sutherby) who have yet to get the GHHT. Clark had at least two of them with Calgary. Bradley had one with San Jose and had one with Pittsburgh. Bradley’s Pittsburgh GHHT came against Washington, in the final game of the 2003-04 season. That’s the last NHL game Bradley played for a team other than Washington.

Most other players also pegged Clark and Bradley right away.

“I’m gonna go with Brads,” said goaltender Brent Johnson. “Clarkie. Did Ovy get in a fight last year? Brash? Sutsy definitely,” he continued.

“Brash” is Donald Brashear, and his name came up with virtually everyone who was queried. We know Brashear has not had one since 2001-02, but we don’t have game-by-game info for him prior to that season, and he was not available for futher questioning at the time.

“A goal, an assist and a fight,” continued Johnson, when told he was missing the guy who had done it during the previous season. “I don’t know. Who else? Willsie? Not Halpy.”

Clymer, we told him.

“Oh, did he? Actually, that makes more sense.”

Bryan Muir’s GHHT radar is pretty good, as you’ll see later.

“Chris Clark. Bradley. Brash probably did it. Maybe Clymes. Maybe Petty. And maybe Sudsy.”

“Sudsy” was close with his own guesses.

“I’d probably say Brads and Clarkie for sure,” said Sutherby. “Brash I’m sure has had one.”

He missed Clymer.

Netminder Olie Kolzig was a bit off base.

“Sudsy.” Nope.

“Brads?” Yep.

“Clarkie?” Yep.

 “Ovy?” Not in the NHL.

“Petty?” Nope.

“Brash.” Maybe. Probably.

“Clymes.” There you go.

Washington vice-president and general manager George McPhee had a few in his playing days, but he would sooner have a double root-canal than discuss his playing exploits for publication purposes.

McPhee knew pretty well which of the current Caps had Gordie Howe hatted.

“Probably Clarkie,” he started. “Maybe Brads, maybe Clymer. Brash for sure, somewhere along the way. Maybe Sutherby.”

Assistant coach Dean Evason (who also achieved the feat during his playing days) didn’t know, and couldn’t even hazard a guess. But he waxed eloquent on the cachet of the GHHT.

“Goal-scoring is part of the game,” he began. “Assists are part of the game, and fighting is part of the game. If you’re getting into fights every now and then, it means that you are competing and battling every night. The fight was just a by-product of your competitiveness. As far as milestones, I don’t think you put a price on it. Was it as important as scoring this goal or that goal or milestones? I don’t know. But it is certainly nice to know that you compete every night.

“When you have something like that, you know you’re involved in the hockey game in every way. It’s one thing to score goals and make plays, but it’s another to compete every night. I think it says a lot about the character of a player and a team if you’ve got a lot of guys who have accomplished it.

“We think we have a good group of that type of hockey player, and those types of things are going to happen.”

As a guy who has played meat-and-potatoes hockey since he came into the league, Caps captain Clark has a pretty good sense of what the accomplishment means.

“For some guys, for guys in a certain role, I think it’s pretty good,” said Clark. “The real hat trick, until I got one last year, I didn’t think would be attainable with my role. So I think the Gordie Howe hat trick is for those guys, A goal, an assist and a fight is a pretty darn good game.

“Getting the [real, three-goal] hat trick was pretty special. I have had four or five two-goal games, and never came close to a hat trick. So getting that was pretty special. I’ve had probably three, maybe four Gordie Howe hat tricks. They’re pretty close. Gordie Howe ones, not a lot of people know about them but I think in the hockey world they’re pretty good to have. Pretty special.”

alt “It’s fun,” admitted Bradley. “You’re basically involved in every part of the game. It’s obviously fun, but it’s tough to get them. It’s not the fight that’s hard for me. It’s the goal and the assist. I’ve had a couple, and it’s enjoyable.”

“It’s not like you get the goal and the assist, and you start looking around for a fight,” said Clymer with a wry smile. “But it’s good to have one, get it out of the way.”

We checked, Clymer had his fight in the second period. His goal and his assist both came in the third, in fact the helper came with just 1:47 remaining. So no, he didn’t go around looking for his fight.

Okay, boys. Last question. How many Gordie Howe hat tricks did the immortal Gordie Howe himself have during the course of his 1,767-game NHL career?

“Geez,” said Clark. “Did he have one a game? I don’t know.”

“Oh geez, I don’t know,” said Sutherby. “That was a long time before me. Twenty? Thirty? I don’t know.”

“Probably lots, I’m going to say,” began Evason. “How many games did he play? He probably had 100.”

“Nine,” blurted Bradley. Then quickly: “Nineteen. Fifty.”

“One-hundred-and-twenty-six?” offered Brooks Laich.

“Oh Geez,” started Johnson, whose grandfather (Sid Abel) centered for Howe and Ted Lindsay on the famed “Production Line."  “Who knows? I have no idea. Do you know? How many goals did he have, 811 or something? I’m gonna say 60, 70.”

“Oh boy,” Muir reacted to the question. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s something that … I don’t know, one?”

When told that was correct (at least as far as anyone seems to be able to tell), Muir explained his reasoning.

“I was thinking that maybe he had it once and they just nicknamed it after him,” he said. “Because I don’t know if he was renowned for fighting as much as he was for his elbows.”

The information that the great Gordie Howe apparently had only one Gordie Howe hat trick (Dec. 22, 1955) over the course of his lengthy and illustrious NHL career was met with a fair amount of understandable incredulity.

“One?” said a shocked Johnson. “One? Well, I guess he didn’t need to fight that often.”

“One?” said a disbelieving Clark. “That’s it? Come on. Come on. No way. Did he fight a lot?”

“That’s it?” said a surprised Evason. “Come on. But how many elbowing majors?”

“One!” said McPhee, who laughed heartily and walked away.

“That’s it?” asked Sutherby. “How did it become the Gordie Howe hat trick then?”

Good question. And sadly, we don’t know the answer to that one. Don’t know when it got the name, or Howe or why it got the name. What we do know is that Bradley’s response was our favorite.

“One?” he said. “One, ever?” Then the magnitude of that reality began to set in.

“I’ve got more than Gordie Howe!”  

“Really, only one?” asked Bradley, wanting to be sure.

Yep. Until someone else says and proves otherwise.
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