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Famous last name no burden for Howe

by Adam Kimelman
Mark Howe is going to be enshrined Nov. 14 in the Hockey Hall of Fame, taking a deserved place among the rest of the game's immortals.

He played nearly 1,000 games in the NHL, was a three-time runner-up for the Norris Trophy, a Hart Trophy finalist, was recognized as one of the best defensemen of his era and has been a part of four Stanley Cup champions as the Director of Pro Scouting for the Detroit Red Wings.

Mark Howe (R) has never minded taking a back seat to him more famous father Gordie. (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI)
But he'll always be best known as Gordie Howe's son.

"I think to this day I'm still referred to as Gordie's son," Mark told "But it wasn't a burden."

As hard as it might have been to try to follow his father's path pro hockey stardom, Mark said he never considered another career.

"Maybe for somebody else, but not me," he said. "Hockey was in my blood ... as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a hockey player. When I got older, I knew I was good enough and I was going to have a chance to be a pro hockey player and that's always what I wanted. I'm very fortunate it worked out that way for me."

Helping down that path was Mark's mother, Colleen, who ran the household while Gordie was playing with the Red Wings.

"My mom spent a lot of time with us and how to deal with it," Mark said. "The way I looked at it, being the son of Gordie Howe in Detroit sure opened a lot of doors, but it put a little extra burden on you and that burden was to carry your name with pride."

Mark did just that, including when he started his pro career with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, where his father and older brother Marty were his linemates. It was one of the best times of his career.

"With certain people you have a tremendous chemistry, and I know he's my father, but he it was the best chemistry I ever had with anyone I ever played with," Howe said. "It was a natural thing. You don't have to talk; you know where to be, you know where to look. Just things worked so well together. The knowledge my dad had, very few people, if anybody, can come close to it, the instincts he had. I provided some of the leg work for him."

The Howes were traded to the New England Whalers in 1977 and came to the NHL two years later when the franchise was absorbed into the NHL. Mark was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1982, and that's when he said he finally was able to start building his own identity.

"When I first came to Philly, I met the trainers and the head guy was Dave Settlemyre, and the first day I met him, he said, 'Oh, you're Travis' dad,' and Travis is my oldest son,” Howe said. “He was making fun of the fact that everybody called me Gordie Howe's son. He called me Travis' dad."


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Mark became a free agent following the 1991-92 season, and at age 37 he had two options -- stay in Philadelphia, where he had spent 10 years and emerged as a star, or take an offer from the Red Wings and bring his hockey life full circle.

"One of the things my mom always taught me was to make out a list," Mark said. "My primary goal at that time was to try to win a Stanley Cup. (Philadelphia) traded six players and $15 million (in the Eric Lindros deal), and the Flyers were not going to be in any position to win a Stanley Cup. And I thought I had two, maybe three years left in my career with my back the way it was. So that (the Cup) ... was at the top of my list."

His list had it 15-2 in favor of going to Detroit, but Howe said he agonized over the decision, to the point where the stress made him physically ill. He said it took a call from Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch to force his hand.

"I had been dealing with (GM) Bryan Murray and Mr. Ilitch called,” Howe said. “I said it's hard; everything is telling me to leave, except my heart is killing me. It's very hard for me to leave. I consider myself a loyal person and (the Flyers) have been loyal to me, I've been loyal to them.

"He said I'm sending a plane for you tomorrow. Get on that plane and then we'll talk. He put me on the spot."

Howe signed with Detroit and played his final three seasons with the Red Wings, where he mentored a group of young defensemen that included Vladimir Konstantinov and Nicklas Lidstrom. In his final season, 1994-95, he helped the Wings reach the Stanley Cup Final, their first trip to the championship series since 1966.

While Howe didn't win a championship as a player, he did get the chance to bring the Howe name back to Detroit.

"Had I had to play there when I was a young kid, I would have really, really struggled with it," Howe said. "I was old enough then. I could handle the pressure of bearing the name Howe."

"I think Gordie at one point said I should have had him wear my number for a game," Marty Howe told "It would have felt really heavy, though."

Mark Howe said he never really felt that weight -- or if he did, it certainly never affected him.

"It was something I grew up with and understood," he said. "It's something that you just accept and you deal with."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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