Number nine, Gordie Howe, was born in Floral Saskatchewan in 1928… one of nine children, he moved to Saskatoon when he was nine days old.
Gordie played his first NHL game in 1946 against the Maple Leafs. He played his last NHL game almost 34 years later in 1980… he was 52… and didn’t miss a single game that season. Along the way he played in more NHL games than any other player. He suited up for twenty-one All Star Games, won six Art Ross Trophies, five Hart Trophies and four Stanley Cups.
Gordie Howe backed down to no one. As an 18 year old, in his first visit to the Forum, he knocked out The Rocket with a single punch. During the 1950 Playoffs, in attempt to check the Leafs Ted Kennedy, he missed and struck the boards, fracturing his skull but Gordie was back in uniform Opening Night, winning his fist League scoring title that season. His mix of skill and toughness were the inspiration for our game’s most famous unofficial statistic… the Gordie Howe Hat Trick… credited to any player who records a goal, an assist and a fighting major in the same game.
Despite his fierce play… and likely because of it, Gordie Howe was loved everywhere our game was played. No visiting player has scored more goals or more points in Toronto and no one ever will, but still… everybody loved Gordie.
In 1963, after the Maple Leafs defeated the Red Wings at the Gardens to capture the Stanley Cup, Gordie remained on the ice to be interviewed if front of 15,000 Leafs fans. The ovation he received was as long and filled with as much emotion, as it was for any of that night’s victors. Humbly, Gordie waited with his Waskesiu Lake fishing buddy Johnny Bower, as the crowd’s cheers continued to rain down. After the game, the gentleman that he was, Gordie popped by the Leafs Dressing Room to share in a glass of champagne.
A year later, Gordie fired the slap shot that would fracture Bobby Baun’s leg and set the stage for Bob’s broken leg, overtime winner and another Leafs Cup. Once again… Gordie stopped by the Dressing Room, to share a glass of champagne with Johnny.
Gordie battled the Leafs in the 40’s… he fought them in the 50’s… clashed with them in 60’s… laced up against them in the 70’s… he even played against them in the 80’s… alongside his two favourite NHL teammates… his sons.
Gordie Howe has been as much a part of Maple Leafs hockey as any opposing player could ever be. His impact on our game will never be matched.
There is no Mr. Baseball… no Mr. Football… no Mr. Basketball… but there is a Mr. Hockey.
Gordie… you will be missed.