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Happy Birthday, Gordie!

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – It will be a quiet evening tonight when the greatest player whoever laced up a pair of skates celebrates his birthday; he’ll go to dinner with his son, Marty, and his family at a restaurant not far from their Connecticut home, and then call it an early evening.

Gordie Howe, who after all of these years still holds every NHL career-scoring record for a right wing, turns 83-years-young today.

While today’s birthday celebration will be more serene, there was a time when Mr. Hockey was more boisterous – on the ice, at least – on this day. See, during Howe’s 26-year NHL career, he spent 10 birthdays on the ice, helping the Red Wings to a 5-3-2 record in those games.

“It was really funny to play on your birthday,” said Howe, in a phone conversation with “Guys would desperately try to get me the puck on my birthday.”

Yet there was one person, Howe said, who didn’t see it that way.

“Jack Adams didn’t think too much about birthdays,” said Howe, of the former Red Wings GM. “He just thought that guys were too distracted with their birthdays and not focused on playing.”

Focus never was a problem for Howe, who compiled 801 goals and 1,049 assists in 1,767 career games. He was a big birthday performer, scoring four goals with 11 assists and four minor penalties.

Howe had four mulit-point birthday games, including two three-point efforts. He collected three assists in a 6-4 loss to Montreal in Game 1 of the 1956 Stanley Cup finals; and scored a goal with two assists in a 4-2 win over Chicago in Game 3 of the 1963 semifinals.

The only time that Howe did not contribute offensively on March 31 was on his 25th birthday. That day the Boston Bruins held Howe scoreless and dealt the Red Wings a 6-2 loss in Game 4 of the 1953 Stanley Cup semifinals. The Bruins eventually won the series in six games.

"That's probably the one birthday that I remember," Howe said, jokingly.

In a six-team league, where teams often traveled by train together, opposing players generally knew one another. So it wasn’t unusual for players to know if an opponent was celebrating a birthday on any given game night.

And in his own special way, Howe usually had a special on-ice message during pre-game warm-ups for birthday boys.

“You knew about 85 percent of them real well,” he said, “so I would tell guys, ‘Good luck, but watch out.’ ”

Mr. Hockey’s 83rd birthday comes one day after the Red Wings surrendered double-digit goals in a 10-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena. It was only the third time in the 30-year history of The Joe that an opponent blistered the Wings for 10 or more goals on home ice.

During Howe’s career in Detroit, the Red Wings were touched for 10 or more goals five times, but only once on home ice at Olympia Stadium. And that came in his farewell season when Boston pinned an 11-4 loss on the Red Wings.

Gordie Howe's Birthday Numbers
Year (Age)
Scoring Line  Score
1949 (21)
1 Goal; 0 Assist; 2 PIM 3-1 (W)
1951 (23)
1 Goal; 0 Assist; 0 PIM 2-0 (W)
1953 (25)
0 Goal; 0 Assist; 0 PIM 6-2 (L)
1956 (28)
3 Assists; 0 Assist; 2 PIM 6-4 (L)
1957 (29)
1 Goal; 0 Assist; 0 PIM 4-3 (L)
1963 (35)
1 Goal; 2 Assists; 0 PIM 4-2 (W)
1964 (36)
0 Goal; 2 Assists; 0 PIM 3-0 (W)
1966 (38)
0 Goal; 2 Assists; 2 PIM 5-3 (W)
1968 (40)
0 Goal; 1 Assist; 2 PIM 5-5 (T)
1971 (43)
0 Goal; 1 Assist; 0 PIM 2-2 (T)

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