Mark Howe just had returned home from a late-June vacation. His focus already had shifted to his next task as the Director of Pro Scouting for the Detroit Red Wings – getting to the Motor City to assist with the impending July 1 Free Agency period.
Then the call came.
HOCKEY HALL OF FAMER
Flyers Memories & Tributes
Howe insisted the annual Hall of Fame induction announcement had not crossed his mind, but when he answered he immediately knew what was up. Sixteen years after retiring as a player, Howe was a Hall of Famer.
“I was totally unaware of what was going on,” said Howe, a defenseman who spent 10 seasons with the Flyers. “The phone call really caught me off guard. … It took my breath away.”
This weekend promised to bring plenty more emotional moments, capped by Monday’s induction ceremony when he is formally welcomed into the Hall alongside Ed Belfour, Doug Gilmour and Joe Nieuwendyk.
Howe becomes the eighth former Flyer enshrined in Toronto. He joins Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Bernie Parent as the fourth player to enter the Hall as a Flyer – and the only such defenseman.
Howe said he’ll have about 40 family members and friends at the ceremony, including his father, Gordie, a legend even among Hall of Fame circles. Along with Mark’s brother, Marty, the Howes comprise one of the premier hockey families.
“Marty and I played together for so many years,” Mark Howe said. “The real thrill for us was playing on the same team as our dad.”
That first happened in 1973, when all three Howes signed with the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association. Gordie won Most Valuable Player while Mark captured the Rookie of the Year award that year, the first of seven the trio played together. They won two WHA titles with Houston and eventually played their final season together for Hartford in 1979-80, the Whalers’ inaugural NHL season.
Life as the son of a hockey icon brings challenges and pressures only a handful of athletes ever experience. To handle those, Mark said he grasped hold of advice from his mother, Colleen.
In a comparison with his father, any player is bound to fall shy, Howe said. Thus, he learned to define his career by measuring whether he lived up to the expectations he – and not others – set for himself.
“It was something that you learn to evaluate yourself,” Howe said of his career. “It doesn’t matter what the media thinks or what your coaches think. My mother taught me to set my own goals and expectations of myself. I set them very high.”
Howe met them, too.
He tallied 197 goals and 545 assists during a 16-year NHL career that also included stints with the Hartford Whalers and Detroit Red Wings. A four-time All-Star, Howe was named a Norris Trophy finalist three times. He also spent six seasons in the WHA, where he scored 208 goals and 296 assists, mainly as a forward.
Howe was a budding star by the time he arrived in Philadelphia prior to the 1982-83 season via a trade with the Whalers. In the Flyers, he joined a franchise that quickly had established a winning culture.
“The focus was on the team and not on the individual,” Howe said. “It was just a natural fit for me. I feel very fortunate to have spent 10 seasons in a Flyers uniform.”
The feeling is mutual. During those 10 seasons, Howe collected 138 goals and 342 assists for 480 points, which all rank as the most ever by a Flyers blueliner. Among all Flyers skaters, Howe ranks 14th in goals, eighth in assists and fourth with 24 shorthanded goals.
|Gordie Howe, Mark Howe |
Howe’s most spectacular season came in 1985-86, when he established team records for a defenseman with 24 goals and 82 points. Perhaps more impressive, he concluded the season with a plus-85 rating, another franchise record and the 8th best performance in NHL history.
“I just tried to give my best all the time,” Howe said, who credited his primary defensive partners Glen Cochrane, Kjell Samuelsson and the late Brad McCrimmon. “I think I had four or five good years here before my back went out. The team provided me an opportunity to perform my best.”
Howe anchored the Flyers’ defense for much of the 1980s, a period in which the Flyers built on their success of the 1970s. The Flyers qualified for the playoffs in each of Howe’s first seven seasons in Philadelphia. They advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals twice in that stretch, but fell shy of the ultimate glory of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
“I caught the latter end of the Islanders dynasty and then we get the Edmonton dynasty,” Howe said. They’re two of the greatest teams that probably played this game. … We took pride in that we had a lot of good, accomplished teams as a group. Unfortunately, we couldn’t grasp the Cup. If it was that easy, everyone would have one.”
Howe spent the final four seasons of his career in his hometown Detroit, where his father became known as Mr. Hockey. There, Howe retired after playing in a third Stanley Cup Finals in 1995, when Detroit fell to the New Jersey Devils.
Following his retirement, Howe was considered by many to be among the most accomplished players not enshrined in Toronto. Some players in similar situations have grown tired of waiting on a call that may never come. Howe said he never fretted about it.
“I think people who know me know my game speaks for itself,” he said. “If it’s good enough to get me in, it’s good enough to get me in. There’s nothing I can change about it.
“It was out of my hands and out of my control. Everything I did 20 years ago will stand up.”
Eventually, Howe received the call. Now, his accomplishments will be featured alongside those of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of skates.