DETROIT – By the time Mark Howe was old enough to get his driver’s license, he’d already helped bring winning hockey back to the Old Red Barn on Grand River Avenue – something that had been missing since he was a newborn in 1955.
Howe’s exploits as a 15-year-old prodigy were the driving force behind the incredible championship run of a first-year team called the Detroit Junior Red Wings, the first-ever Junior A team based in the United States.
As the only American boys playing in a Canadian junior league, Howe remembers how most aficionados of the sport didn’t give the Junior Red Wings a snowball’s chance against teams with supposedly better talent.
“The Canadian teams could draw from all over the place, but we had to be regional to the Detroit area,” he said. “If you read the papers we were picked to finish dead-last in the league and we were no good and just bums. So to a guy, we took a lot of pride in trying to prove that we were a pretty good group of hockey players, even though we were from the United States.”
The Junior Red Wings, founded that same season by Howe’s mother, Colleen, went on to capture the league championship with a series win over a team from Guelph, Ontario.
As a winger, Howe led the league with 107-points, and was named league MVP. Not a bad start to a pretty fruitful career for the son of a legendary star.
Howe’s career will come full circle early next year when he will be enshrined in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame as member of his 57th induction class.
Last year was a pretty special year, too, for Howe who had his jersey retired by the Philadelphia Flyers, the team for whom he spent much of his 22 pro seasons. He was also enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame last fall, where he joined his father, Gordie Howe, as the second father-and-son combination – along with Bobby and Brett Hull – so honored in hockey lore. The Howes will be the first father-and-son tandem in the Michigan hall, which enshrined Gordie in 1957.
Though Mark Howe hasn’t maintained a permanent residence in metro Detroit since he played for the Red Wings in 1992-95, the meaning of Monday’s announcement wasn’t lost on him.
“It’s where I was born and raised. It’s where I was developed,” Howe said. “Dad came from somewhere else and played in Detroit, and like I say, probably the greatest player ever.
“But for me, I was born at Highland Park (General) Hospital and grew-up playing on the outdoor rinks in Detroit and at Butzel Arena, and Detroit Skating Club and played the State Fairgrounds for a couple of years. Skated down at the Olympia when I could, so I was a product of the city of Detroit, I wasn’t a product of somewhere else when I achieved my status.”
Howe will be just the second American-born NHL player to enter the MSHOF, joining Waterford’s Pat LaFontaine, a member of the 2004 induction class, along with Red Wings’ owner Mike Ilitch. The Red Wings are the last of Detroit's four major sports teams to have a Michigan-born player enter the state's sports hall of fame.
“I’m proud to be from Detroit,” Howe said. “At that time when I was growing up you had Michigan, you had Minnesota, and you had Massachusetts, other than that, you didn’t have much hockey in the States. I happened to be in one of the best three places that gave you the opportunity to have a chance at a professional career.”
Though the league offered a path to higher levels, being the only U.S. team in a six-team Canadian league wasn’t always pleasant.
“I remember we had a couple of back-to-back games at the Olympia, right around Christmas against Chatham one game and Guelph one game,” Howe said. “We were right at the top with those teams and we had a couple of games where you would have the half-hour brawls, and our team could stand with them toe-to-toe. A lot of the battles back then were just being able to handle it physically, because we had the skill level to match most everybody in the league.”
Howe will be the 22nd member of the Red Wings' organization in the MSHOF, which already has enshrined legendary coach Jack Adams (1955); Ted Lindsay (1966); Sid Abel (1967); Ebbie Goodfellow (1968); Terry Sawchuk (1974); James Norris (1976); Alex Delvecchio (1977); Bill Gadsby (1986); Budd Lynch (1994); Red Berenson and Bruce Martyn (1996); Red Kelly (1998); Scotty Bowman (1999); Jack Stewart (2000); Jimmy Devellano (2006); Norm Ullman and Steve Yzerman (2007); Marian Ilitch (2010); and Marcel Pronovost (2012).
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