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Howell was Unsung Rangers Hero

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Blueshirts Flashback: 1963

As we approach the Feb. 22 celebration of the Rangers careers of Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell, is looking back at a series of articles written about the duo during their heyday. The following article, written by sports writer Larry Fox for the Rangers' 1963-64 game program, gives a sense of what was said about Howell in his own era.

Because of his low-key style both on and off the ice, defenseman Harry Howell often didn't receive the recognition he deserved during his playing career.
(photo courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame)
Every time Harry Howell takes the ice for the Rangers, he adds to his team record. However, coach Red Sullivan feels it’s time for a change.

“I think Harry’s ready to have his best year for us and I think it’s about time he got some all-star recognition,” the redhead declares.

“Harry never misses any games and he almost always plays well. Some people may claim Howell isn’t a tough guy, but when he takes you into the boards, you know you’ve been taken in. He’s a big raw-boned guy and he’s strong.”

Continuing, Sullivan says, “Harry’s always been underestimated, but he’s played great hockey for us this season.”

Coaches have come and gone with alarming frequency here the last few seasons and one thing they all had in common was an admiration for Harry Howell, the unsung defenseman.

“I’ve had players on other teams tell me the Ranger defenseman they most hate to play against is Harry Howell,” Alf Pike once said. “He doesn’t go knocking other people down in the middle of the ice where it doesn’t matter. But when he takes them into the boards, he always gives them a working over. He’s 195 pounds … all elbows.

And the departed Doug Harvey, who also coached Howell and who knows a little bit about defensive play, has remarked, “They don’t come much better than Harry.”

Howell’s problem is that he’s not only not very colorful himself, he’s always played in the shadow of exceedingly flamboyant teammates. For several years Howell teamed with Lou Fontinato, and the gallery crowd dearly loved Louie. They overlooked the fact that while Leaping Louie was bluffing guys at the blue line, Howell was guarding the front of the net … where he belonged.

Then, when Louie went to Montreal, the Rangers got Harvey, one of the all-time defense greats. Harvcey made the all star team that year, 1961-62, and as harry pointed out realistically, “There’s usually room for only one defenseman on a team on the all-star squad.”

When Fontinato left New York, Howell assumed a new burden breaking in the rookies. As each young defenseman joined the club, he was teamed with Howell. This was a compliment of the highest order, but again it meant Howell had to submerge his own ambitions to make sure he covered up for the wandering newcomers like Larry Cahan, Don Johns, Jim Neilson, et al.

It looked this year as if Howell would get a couple of breaks, but neither panned out. First, he was teamed with Neilson and it looked as if the sophomore big leaguer was really coming into his own. That would have taken some pressure off Howell.

Howell then was teamed with Harvey, which should have been a good break. But Doug’s game went worse.

It seemed as if Harry almost was born out of the spotlight. As a youngster he was the No. 2 athlete in his family and the Rangers actually considered his brother, Ron, a better prospect. But Ron decided to concentrate on pro football and Harry became the NHL star.

Harry was one of the members of the Rangers’ outstanding 1951-52 Guelph junior team, which won the Memorial Cup as champions of all Canada. He and Ron Murphy, his brother-in-law, incidentally, came up together, the first ones to stick. Harry has been around ever since.

Going into this season, he’s played 752 games as a Ranger, 105 more than the old record-holder, Ott Heller. At season’s start he also was 26th on the all-time Ranger scoring list – not back for a defensive defenseman (Gump Worsley’s favorite kind) – and at this writing he had overtaken Mac Colville and tied with Nick Mickoski. Only Bill Gadsby and Heller are ahead of him in the Rangers’ list of scoring defensemen.

Also as of this writing, the 30-year-old Howell still has all his own teeth. For a man in his 12th NHL season, that may be the most outstanding record of all. 
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