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Hall of Fame teammates, rivals remember Howe

'Mr. Hockey' revered as great competitor, great friend

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- A sampling of comment from a variety of Hockey Hall of Fame members, interviewed about their memories of Gordie Howe, who died Friday at age 88.

Glenn Hall, goaltender, teammate with Detroit Red Wings; opponent with Chicago Black Hawks and St. Louis Blues:

"I've always said that Gordie was the best hockey player I've ever seen. You know there are lots of great ones, you know the names I'm thinking about. But Gordie was always a step above everybody, in my opinion. I played with him in Detroit, and I played against him with Chicago and St. Louis, and he certainly was a lot easier to play with than against.

"He did so many little things. All of the players, I believe, took a look at where they wanted to go with the puck, where they wanted to shoot, what corner, what side. They'd take a little peek just before shooting. You knew one thing with Gordie: when he took a peek, he wasn't going to shoot where he was looking. He'd shoot someplace else.

"They say a Gordie Howe Hat Trick is a goal, an assist and a fight. I say, that's not really true. When Gordie came up, he'd just kick the [stuffing] out of all the tough guys and then he didn't have to fight any more. He didn't fight that much. I guess the first year or two he fought a bunch, but that was just to lay the groundwork. He'd say, 'Just leave me alone.'

"Gordie was a great friend, it was always nice to meet up with him in the old timers' events. What a class guy he was.

"I've got mixed emotions [about his passing]. Gordie was ailing pretty bad at the end. Maybe it was time for him to be moving on, I guess. I'm not afraid of moving on, I just hope I can do it without any pain. That seems to be the biggest problem, that most of our friends have gone through a bunch of pain. You feel for them. When they do leave, it leaves a blank spot in your heart but your memories help you get through."

"Gordie did what he enjoyed and he did it so well. That will be remembered forever. You can't forget any of the great ones.

"Just because we were teammates once didn't mean that helped me when we weren't on the same side. I don't think Gordie gave anybody any advantage if he didn't have to. As a goalkeeper, you always like to stop your friends. You knew that your friends also liked to score on you. You didn't want them to score because you knew how good they'd feel, and you never wanted the opposition to feel good.

"Gordie and Jean Beliveau and I retired the same year (1971). I said, '[Expletive], they quit because it's not going to be any fun for them without me, because I was so easy to score on.' That team up in heaven just keeps getting stronger. We lost a bunch recently, haven't we?"

Video: Mike Modano reflects on the legacy of Gordie Howe

Mark Messier, forward, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks:

When I was growing up, Gordie Howe was a mythical legend in our house. We revered him. He represented what every hockey player dreamed of becoming on and off the ice. From the entire Messier family we send our sincerest condolences to the Howe family.

Johnny Bower, goaltender, Toronto Maple Leafs:

"Gordie was a great hockey player, a great competitor, his record speaks for itself. He was dynamite. He scored a few goals on me, and I got him a few times too.

"But there was one game I remember just before Christmas; in the warm-up he skates by me and says, 'John, keep your head up tonight.' I didn't say anything, the game starts and bingo! Can you believe it, Detroit scores the first goal on me. It's Gordie. He looks at me and says, 'John, Merry Christmas!' I didn't say a word. But we won 4-3 and I rushed down the ice to wish Gordie a Happy New Year, but he was too fast for me, he was gone, darn it.

"He was strong, eh? He had a stomach like a washboard, like [Toronto defenseman] Timmy Horton. Gordie could shoot backhand as well as he could shoot forehand. He'd very seldom use the backhand unless the opportunity was perfect. One time he pulled me way over and suddenly I see the puck go the other way off his backhand, in the net. [Coach] Punch Imlach says to me, 'I know Gordie's your friend but you don't let goals in like that.' I said, 'Punch, he went to the backhand,' but Punch told me I should have stopped it anyway. I got [heck] from Punch and laughed at by Gordie. He never shot at the same spot when he came down the wing.

"Gordie and I got along real well, even as opponents. We'd shake hands, wish each other luck. We were gentlemen. I'm so sorry that he's gone but it's a blessing that he is. He doesn't have to suffer any more. He's scoring plenty up there now."

Yvan Cournoyer, forward, Montreal Canadiens:

"I played my first NHL game against Gordie. I was 19. My first game was in Detroit. When the Canadiens told me I'd go to Detroit, my first reaction was, 'Oh, I'm going to play against Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay and all those guys.' I was quite impressed, as you can imagine. But the Red Wings were gentlemen. They let us win 7-3, so maybe they knew it my first game and that was my welcome into the League (laughs).

"I didn't play too much against Gordie; that was Gilles Tremblay's job to play against him as left wing. We liked to compete but when the game was over, we respected each other and we liked to talk about our teams.

"I was in Calgary this year for an Alzheimer's fundraiser and I talked with his son quite a bit and he said that Gordie wasn't doing too well.

"I was in Calgary a few years ago for a fundraiser and I was on stage, asked how a small guy like me could make it in the NHL. I looked at Gordie, who was sitting right in front of me, and I said, 'The only reason I'm here today is because when Gordie threw his elbow at me, it went over my head. I was too short.' He had a good laugh about that."

Video: Kevin Weekes on the legacy of Gordie Howe

Tony Esposito, goaltender, Chicago Blackhawks:

"I remember Gordie in the late 1960s into the early '70s. He was still very effective. His biggest problem was arthritis in his wrist and he couldn't shoot as well. He was playing with Alex Delvecchio, they were still really good. Detroit was on the way down because their hub was made up of older guys, but they were still effective.

"Gordie and I did a few events together. He was always cordial. When he was retired, he was very easygoing. He was never in a hurry. One time I was doing a show in Detroit, he was maybe living in Travers City, Mich., we met at the airport and he was saying he had just been on the roof of his house to shovel. With a snow blower. (laughs) I told him he was nuts. He was in his 60s by then. "

Alex Delvecchio, center, Detroit Red Wings; succeeded Howe as captain in 1962:

"Gordie was a great guy. I can recall when I first came up to Detroit that he always helped up young guys out with tips. He'd say, try this or that, especially with faceoffs. He'd tell me what I could do when I was losing faceoffs.

"I won't mention names, but I remember that late in the season, somebody had a bonus for a certain number of goals. There was a play when it really was Gordie's goal, but he made sure he got the puck to this guy so he could get his bonus.

"What I learned from Gordie was that it was an honor to be in the NHL and you've got to work hard at it all the time, day in and day out. Nothing comes easy, although it did come a little easier for him because he was so talented."

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