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Bowman watched, coached and marveled at Howe

Hockey Hall of Fame member says longtime Detroit star was 'complete player' and 'wonderful person'

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Scotty Bowman, the most successful coach in NHL history, grew up in Montreal as a huge fan of the Montreal Canadiens, the rivalry his favorites had with the Detroit Red Wings, and of superstars Maurice "Rocket" Richard and Gordie Howe.

Later, as a coach who won the last three of his nine Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings, Bowman got to see a different side of Howe, who passed away Friday at age 88.

From his home in upstate New York on Friday afternoon, Bowman recalled a few of his personal Howe highlights:

"I was one of the fortunate people. Growing up in Montreal, I watched Gordie in his prime. Look at it: the Red Wings finished in first place from 1948-49 to 1954-55, seven consecutive seasons, and they won four Stanley Cups during those seven years.

Video: Ray Bourque discusses the legacy of Gordie Howe

"That was before televised hockey, which started in 1952 or 1953. I can remember, I was only 15 when I used to go up to the Montreal Forum. I was playing midget hockey, then junior. I'd always look forward to the Montreal-Detroit games because they were the two top teams, of course.

"It was such a rivalry. The Rocket and Gordie Howe, there's nobody even close in my eyes. Jean Beliveau came along later, around 1953. During that time, everybody would always say, 'Who's the better of the two, the Rocket or Howe?' They'd say, 'if you want to fill a rink, the Rocket would fill it. If you want to win championships, Gordie would be there.'

"Gordie was as tough as there was. As prolific as there was. And a wonderful person. After I got to Detroit and started coaching his son Mark, Gordie came around quite a bit in the 1990s, from 1993 to 2002. Gordie was in Detroit a lot, he came to all our playoff games and he used to hang around the dressing room.

"One of his closest friends became Jean Beliveau. Right from the get-go, they were both represented by [agent] Gerry Patterson, who was more a guy getting endorsements. They both had endorsements from Eaton's [department store], among the first hockey players who ever got endorsements. They were friendly rivals. Even in their post-hockey careers, they were very close.

Video: The Sharks and Penguins reflect on Gordie Howe

"When I went to St. Louis in 1967 [as coach and general manager of the expansion St. Louis Blues], the coaches for the All-Star Game were able to pick players to fill out the roster. The 1969 All-Star Game in Montreal, I picked about seven or eight St. Louis Blues. We were the pick of the West. People criticized this but we tied the East in that game.

"In 1979, I left Montreal [to become coach and general manager of the Buffalo Sabres]. I went to Detroit [to coach in the All-Star Game], after Montreal had won the Cup in '79; if you won the Cup, you were the All-Star coach the next year. So I picked Gordie Howe as a selection from the Hartford Whalers. Each team had to have one player and no Whaler made the team. I picked Gordie, who was [almost] 52 years old, and put him in the All-Star Game at Joe Louis Arena. Real Cloutier of the Quebec Nordiques scored the winning goal in the third period, and Gordie set him up.

"That was the longest ovation I ever heard -- eight or nine minutes, Howe in the Joe Louis Arena, just opened, back in Detroit for the first time. I would meet Gordie many times over the years after that and every time, he'd thank me for bringing him back for that game. It was an easy pick, really. A lot of people didn't like it but he had 15 goals with Hartford at 52 years of age.

"He was top-five in scoring for 20 seasons, made 13 First-Team All-Stars and seven second teams. And you know who was playing right wing in the League? The Rocket, Bernie Geoffrion, Andy Bathgate … he was in pretty good company. I think Gordie's record of being in the top five in scoring for 20 straight seasons; when you think about that, nobody's ever going to do that again. Wayne [Gretzky's] records are unbeatable, but this one that Gordie will always have.

Video: Mitch Albom on Gordie Howe's impact in Detroit

"He was a complete player. He had skill, he had strength, he had power, he was fearless and most people wouldn't even fool around with him.

"One of the most humorous things I was told came from the Red Wings doctor, Jack Finley -- he started in 1960 and was there when I was there [in 1993]. This was one of Jack's early seasons, in the '60s, Gordie was cut and came into the dressing room; he needed stitches for a pretty deep cut.

"Gordie was in a rush. He told Jack, 'You don't need gloves, just stitch me up. And in fact, don't go very far because the guy who did this will be coming in soon.' "

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