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Lindsay: Howe was greatest player ever

Hockey Hall of Fame member says longtime Detroit Red Wings linemate 'could do everything'

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Ted Lindsay was on the phone with the NHL Players' Association when I called him at home Friday afternoon, sharing a few words about the late Gordie Howe for the NHLPA to send along as a communiqué.

When the legendary left wing and I sat in Detroit in April to talk about his life in hockey and beyond the rink, Howe's name surfaced more than once. They had been teammates, with center Sid Abel, on Detroit's famed "Production Line," the fearsome trio that terrorized the NHL opposition during the 1950s.

They'd also had a falling out when Lindsay tried to organize the first NHL players union and Howe chose not to throw his support behind it. If the two weren't blood brothers, they mended fences in later years and were cordial when they met.

More than once during our April conversation, Lindsay's eyes moistened when he talked about his Red Wings career; Howe was a large part of that.

Video: Denis Potvin reminisces on the life of Gordie Howe

On Friday, the NHLPA issued this statement from Lindsay:

"I was very sad to learn today of the passing of my longtime teammate, and friend, Gordie Howe. Gordie really was the greatest hockey player who ever lived. I was fortunate to play with Gordie for 12 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and I've known him for over 70 years. He could do it all in the game to help his team, both offensively and defensively. He earned everything that he accomplished on the ice.

"Beyond hockey, [Howe's late wife] Colleen and his family meant everything to him. Gordie was larger than life, and he was someone who I thought would live forever. My wife, Joanne, and I extend our condolences to Gordie's children - Cathleen, Mark, Marty and Murray - and his entire family and many friends during this time."

Lindsay then took this call and expanded his thoughts on his late teammate:

"That's a [darn] good hockey team up there now. It goes back into the 1930s. I found out this morning about Gordie's passing from Felix (Gatt, a longtime, dear friend of Howe's). Felix traveled with Gordie in Michigan and across Canada, from Vancouver to Halifax.

"Gordie was so strong physically when we played. When I turned pro with Detroit, he was still playing junior, I believe, in the Red Wings farm system, then he played two years in Omaha, our farm club in the United States Hockey League. Then he came to Detroit.

Video: Gary Bettman on his fond memories of Gordie Howe

"He always was worried that he'd not make the team. Every year, his first year at camp, his second year, third, fourth, fifth … We won the NHL [regular-season] championship one time [seven] years in a row (1948-49 through 1954-55), in a six-team League. We trained in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Every year we went to training camp, and even after Gordie had played with us for a few years, he was afraid he'd not make the team. The guys would just laugh at him. He didn't do that to be smart. He did that because he was concerned about his ability, to be good enough to make the team. He meant that sincerely.

"I call him the greatest hockey player to ever play the game. There were only Canadians when we played in the NHL and a few fellows from Minnesota - Canadian weather! Now there are Europeans, but he's still better than anything I've seen so far. And I've seen a lot of hockey players, yes I have.

"Gordie could do everything. Offensively, defensively. He didn't need a policeman; he was his own policeman. I watch Hockey Night in Canada a lot now and the guys who come out of the corners with the puck, like Gordie did? Those are the guys I want on my team."

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