|Gordie Howe's illustrious 52-year career ended almost 30 years ago, but the 80-year-old known as "Mr. Hockey" was the recipient of the first ever NHL Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday night.
WATCH Mr. Hockey recieve his award
– The man the hockey world affectionately calls Mr. Hockey was honored with the ultimate award for his lifetime accomplishments in the game on Thursday during the 2008 NHL Awards Show at the Elgin Theatre.
Gordie Howe, who turned 80 on March 31, was presented with the NHL's Lifetime Achievement Award by Commissioner Gary Bettman and Canadian television sportscaster and author Brian McFarlane. Howe won six Art Ross trophies as the NHL's top point-producer and six Hart trophies as League MVP during an illustrious Hall of Fame career that began in 1946 at the age of 18 and ended in 1980 at age 52.
"This is a great honor, and I still get nervous doing things like this, but once you're in hockey, you're always a part of the game," Howe said. "I want to congratulate all the players who were award winners. I had a long and happy career, and I suppose when I get home tonight and look at the rankings, I'll feel I deserved (the Lifetime Achievement Award)."
Howe said he felt the game is headed in the right direction with the plethora of talent being showcased.
"Our game is in great hands because of the young stars around the League," he said. "They are making it so much fun to watch and so much better."
Wayne Gretzky provided a videotaped testimonial just prior to Howe's acceptance speech.
"When I was younger, my dad bought me a Gordie Howe, No. 9 jersey for Christmas — and that was the best Christmas I ever had," Gretzky said on the video. "I didn't take that jersey off the entire year. I remember (Howe) once told me that you have two eyes and one mouth and that I should keep the two open and one closed, and I tried to do that. But tonight I want everyone to know that you were my hero.
"You once said, it would make you very happy to be remembered with respect," Gretzky continued. "Well, I think it's safe to say that you have the respect of the entire hockey world tonight. And you have my respect and my friendship and my thanks. You were the greatest, you are Mr. Hockey, congratulations Gordie Howe."
Hall of Fame goalie Johnny Bower, who faced Howe for 15 seasons, continued the testimonials.
"Sometime in my dreams, or my nightmares, I'd be seeing you breaking down the right side — and it doesn't feel any better now than it did back then," Bower said. "You worked tirelessly to promote our game, and your love for the game has never wavered."
Said McFarlane, "At age 51, when most of us are headed to the hammock, you were playing in your 29th NHL All-Star Game."
Incomparable strength and an ability to dominate were Howe's trademarks in a career that spanned five decades. Howe finished in the top five in scoring for 20 consecutive seasons, an accomplishment unequalled by any athlete.
Chronic wrist problems forced Howe to retire in 1971, but he was talked into playing for the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association in 1973. That gave him a chance to play on a team with his sons, Marty and Mark. He returned to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers for one last season before retiring for a second time in 1980.
"I spent the first 25 years of my career playing in Detroit," Howe said. "That's where it all started for me, with Detroit's great fans. I thought Montreal was closest to Detroit for fan passion in my day. I hit Rocket Richard hard one night and they booed all through the game. Then, when I got off the ice, there were a thousand fans clapping for me and waiting for autographs."
—Mike G. Morreale
Wayne Gretzky Award? — Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, a nominee for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s finest coach, feels the NHL should look into adding a new piece of hardware to its annual awards presentation.
The new trophy would be called the Wayne Gretzky Award, and here’s why.
"I know some people feel, myself included, that since we award the team allowing the fewest goals during the course of the regular season (William Jennings Award), that the team scoring the most goals should also be awarded," Babcock told NHL.com. "I feel we should look into awarding that team. After all, we are a League that's promoting offense and we already have awards for the top point and goal scorer. It would certainly make sense to award a trophy to the team scoring the most goals during the season. It could be called the Wayne Gretzky Award, and it could be given to that team scoring the most goals."
Ottawa, incidentally, led the League with 258 goals scored during the regular season — a 3.15 goals-per-game average. Detroit was awarded the Jennings Trophy after yielding a League-low 184 goals behind the play of Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood.
—Mike G. Morreale
Bringing sexy back — Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who won four awards Thursday night, also garnered a few votes for best-dressed finalist, sporting a sharply cut black tuxedo with red accents, including an ascot and a vest.
When asked about his stylish look, Ovechkin had this to say: "I want to look sharp and I want to look sexy and I like it."
He believes more NHL players should embrace fashion, but understands it may not happen.
"Everybody is different," he said. "Somebody doesn't have style and they wear the same shoes and same pants every day. You never know what is going to happen the next day for this guy. He might wake up and say, 'Oh my God, I want to try something new and spend some money for clothes.'"
Any player who wants to drop a few bucks on clothes can buy some duds from Ovechkin, who launched his own clothing line Wednesday.
—Shawn P. Roarke
|Nicklas Lidstrom put himself in a higher class with his sixth Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman; he stands behind Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey, who won eight and seven times respectively.
In Good Company — By winning his sixth Norris Trophy on Thursday night, Nick Lidstrom became just the third defenseman in NHL history to be honored as the League's best defenseman more than five times.
Bobby Orr, who many believe to be the best defenseman ever, won the Norris eight times. Doug Harvey has seven Norris awards.
Yet Lidstrom refuses to put himself in the class of those two Hall of Famers.
"I don't feel I belong with those players," he said. "They played in a different era. I don't see myself being in the range that those players are at."
That’s just Lidstrom being his usual modest self, says Babcock. Don't buy the aw-shucks approach for a minute, even if Lidstrom genuinely means it.
"He is an exceptional human being, that's how I describe him," Babcock said. "I think he is the best player in the world. It's his intelligence, his awareness with and without the puck, the amount of minutes he plays, how graceful he plays, how well he handles the leadership role. How patient and calm he is. He's just professionally impressive. It's humbling to be around him."
That's more like it when describing a man who will go down as the best defenseman of his generation and one of the best of all time.
—Shawn P. Roarke
Forwards getting defensive — Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who garnered the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach, believes the role of the two-way forward has become even more important in recent years.
"That's one of the reasons Detroit won the Stanley Cup," Boudreau said. "Their best overall players also happen to be their best defensive players — and that’s a rarity. It also explains how a team can win 54 games and the Stanley Cup, in my opinion, with relative ease. You just felt, when watching them, that Detroit was always in control during their playoff games. Hockey is getting so specialized that you need guys who are good checkers and gritty forwards. You need to get the good skilled guys and you need the mix of all that, both offensively and defensively, to have success. That's how clubs are building teams nowadays."
Not surprisingly, Detroit forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were finalists, along with New Jersey's John Madden, for the Selke Award, given to the League's best defensive forward.
Datsyuk won the award Thursday night. One week earlier, Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoff MVP after tying for the scoring lead with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.
—Mike G. Morreale
Marathon man — Ovechkin credits former Russian marathon runner Dmitry Kapitonov with providing him a fitness regimen that paid dividends during an unforgettable 2007-08 campaign — one that included the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader, the Rocket Richard Trophy as the League's top goal-scorer and the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
Kapitonov, who won the 1997 Enschede Marathon in the Netherlands in a time of 2:12:09, also represented his native Russia at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. He finished in 34th place with a time of 2:19:38.
"One of my best finds was when my manager introduced me to Dmitry Kapitonov," Ovechkin said. "He is a professional with a capital "P." He helped me a lot to improve my physical conditions that I felt great throughout the season."
One such exercise involved running in sand, something Ovechkin initially found extremely difficult to do. But it wasn't long after that the third-year Russian began gaining confidence and exhibiting the endurance that Kapitonov understood was critical in hockey.
"He doesn't ever question (when given instructions); he just does it," Kapitonov told Sportingnews.com. "When an athlete trusts you like that, you want to do your best for them."
When Ovechkin was mired in a seven-game goal-scoring drought from Feb. 15-29, he heeded the advice of Kapitonov by riding an exercise bike to improve his aerobic capacity and endurance. It worked — Ovechkin scored 17 goals in the Caps' final 17 regular-season games.
"He did an unbelievable job with me," Ovechkin said. "He certainly was an important part of my success this season. It was a great year for me and my team and, though it was a tough finish, it was a lot of fun."
Ovechkin finished the season with League-leading totals of 65 goals — the most in the NHL since Mario Lemieux had 69 in 1995-96 — and with 112 points.
—Mike G. Morreale