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Spectrum Memories: Mark Howe

by by Mark Howe as told to Bill Meltzer | / Philadelphia Flyers
Throughout this season various Flyers alumni will give their accounts of their favorite memories of the Spectrum to contributing writer Bill Meltzer, as the building enters its final year of existence.

Mark Howe is the Flyers' all-time leader in points by a defenseman with 480 (138g, 342a) in 594 games. Considered the best defenseman in the history of the franchise, Howe was a three-time first-team NHL all-star and spent 10 seasons with Philadelphia.

I was fortunate to play 22 years of pro hockey. My ten years with the Flyers were some of the happiest times of my life. I always associate good times with winning teams, and we did a lot of winning in Philadelphia and had a quality group of guys off the ice.

In terms of Spectrum memories, to be honest, I don’t really have very many of the place itself. What the arena really represents to me are the people I saw there.

It was the place where my team played some good hockey and the core group stayed intact for a number of years. The Flyers had – and still have – great fans, so the Spectrum was a loud building.  Most of all, I can remember seeing my kids, Travis, Azia and Nolan at different ages after games. So you could say the Spectrum’s meaning to me is as a place I shared with family and friends, and where my team played some good hockey.
Mark Howe joined the Flyers prior to the 1982-83 season. (Flyers Archives)

Believe me, there was a night and day difference between the atmosphere on the Flyers and my previous team, the Hartford Whalers. In Philadelphia, everything was first rate, from the training facilities to the management to the commitment to winning.

My last season in Hartford, 1981-82, was a bit of an ordeal. The previous season, I had rushed to come back from a serious laceration that left me in the hospital and caused my weight to drop to 171 pounds (I usually played at about 195 pounds). Then I played in the Canada Cup for Team USA before I was fully recovered.

In retrospect, it was a big mistake. I struggled, and the Whalers’ management was less than supportive. Finally, I asked the GM, Larry Pleau, to trade me. I gave him a list of four teams I’d accept a trade to – the Flyers, Bruins, Rangers or Islanders.

Weeks went by, then months. Nothing happened. Hartford refused to trade me until after the season. Things continued to drag out over the summer. The whole situation was beyond frustrating.
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Finally, in mid-August, I went away on a three-day fishing trip with my brother, Marty, and tried to just enjoy myself and put the whole situation with the Whalers out of mind.

Wouldn’t you know it; I get a message on August 19, 1982 to call Larry Pleau as soon as possible. I found out they’d worked out a deal with the Flyers if I’d accept it and waive my no-trade clause.  I was thrilled! The next day, I officially became a Flyer.

The only damper on the trade was that my dad, Gordie, had been working in the Whalers organization after his retirement from playing. The trade came as a shock to him, because they kept him out of the loop the whole time they were talking trade with other organizations. The first he heard of the trade was when I called to tell him about it.

I was very happy to go to the Flyers. The team was in a bit of an adjustment period, but Keith Allen and Cagey (Bob McCammon) had put together a pretty good team. Other than those ugly long Cooperall pants we wore, I thought we looked pretty good. The nucleus was there, although there was still some more structure needed in our system until we were ready to make a real push.
I was very happy to go to the Flyers. The team was in a bit of an adjustment period, but Keith Allen and Bob McCammon had put together a pretty good team. Other than those ugly long Cooperall pants we wore, I thought we looked pretty good." - Mark Howe

In addition to myself, the team had just traded for Brad McCrimmon from Boston, added one of the best international defensemen in Miroslav Dvorak from Czechoslovakia, and there were already other quality players on defense like Brad Marsh and Glen Cochrane.

Cagey paired me with Cochrane. Everybody knows of Glen as a fighter – because he loved to do it, and he was good at it – but he was an underrated defenseman. We clicked together as a pairing right away, and he saved me a lot of wear and tear. I used to get run all the time when I was with the Whalers. In Philly, “Cocher” took it personally if someone hit me.

I’ll never forget when we had our preseason meetings with McCammon, and Cagey calls Cocher and me into his office.

“Mark, your job is to move the puck, start the rush, and run the power play,” he said. “Cocher, you make sure no one touches him.”

We left the office and Glen put this big paw on my shoulder. He was several inches taller than me and had hands like meat hooks, so I almost felt like I was his little brother, even though I’m three years older than him.

“Don’t worry, no one’s gonna lay a hand on you,” he said.

He meant it, too. Cocher used to get steamed if I’d get run. Before too long, other teams started to give me more space. I got the credit, but Cocher was a big part of my success.

My first game as a Flyer was our regular season opener (October 7, 1982) against the Quebec Nordiques. On my very first shift, I got clipped with the puck. I was working a give-and-go with Paul Holmgren, and his pass hit me in the face. I looked down and there was blood on the ice, and on my uniform.

When I get back to the bench, Homer looks at me and says, “Howie, you’ve got to learn how to take a pass.”

That’s Paul’s sense of humor – very dry. 
Mark Howe is the Flyers' all-time leader in points by a defenseman with 480. (Getty Images)

The game was tied 2-2 after the first period. We got an early goal by Bill Barber (just 33 seconds into the season) and a late one by Dave Michayluk, a young winger who’d made the opening night roster. Our goals were sandwiched around a pair of power play goals by Quebec’s Peter Stastny.  On one of the Stastny goals, he got to a rebound before I could tie him up, and put in over our goalie, Rick St. Croix, who was down on the ice.

I stayed in the game after getting clipped by the puck and got stitched up in between periods. In the second period, I put our team back in front, 3-2. On the play, Cocher sent the puck down low to Bill Barber. He drew the defense to him and I was able to skate into the slot untouched and put the shot into the net.

The game was a real seesaw affair, and very sloppy defensively. Paul Evans made it a 4-2 game less than a minute after my goal, but midway through the period Anton Stastny and Mario Marois struck back with two closely spaced goals to retie the game, 4-4.

Before the end of the period, Michayluk scored his second of the game to put us ahead again, 5-4. He was beaming after the game– a 20-year-old kid who had the game of his NHL career. It’s always nice to see that sort of thing.

In the third period, Dale Hunter tied up the game yet again. That’s how the game stayed until midway through the period, when we showed some of the explosive potential of our offense.

In the span of less than a minute (35 seconds to be exact), Brian Propp scored a power play goal, Bob Clarke set up Bill Barber for his second of the game and right off the center ice faceoff, Clarkie drew the puck back to Behn Wilson, who passed to Ray Allison. Ray went right in and scored. Just like that, it’s an 8-5 game. A minute and a half later, one of our checking line forwards, Lindsay Carson, added another goal.

We won 9-5 in a game that resembled a shooting gallery. The play was very loose all night and, to be totally honest, I wasn’t too thrilled with my own performance. But the crowd went nuts, we got the win, and we were off to a season where we racked up 106 points and took first place in the Patrick Division.
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