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HOF prepared for another Howe

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Mark Howe shared an evening at a recent Red Wings' game with his son, Travis, and his legendary father, Gordie. Mark Howe will join his famous dad in the Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend.
DETROIT – Together with his globally famous father, Mark Howe is one half of the father & son tandem to score 2,592 points, the most combined regular-season total in NHL history.

Granted, Gordie’s share of the points is greater than 70 percent, but comparing their careers would be, as the younger Howe put it, “A lose-lose situation.” Though Mark Howe didn’t win the hardware or the championships that his father did, statistically speaking, he did pretty good for himself in 16 NHL seasons, and six seasons before then in the World Hockey Association.

On Monday, Mark Howe will join his father in hockey immortality when he is formally inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Howe, 56, played for three NHL clubs, including the Red Wings from 1992-95. But it was his 10 seasons in Philadelphia where Howe made a name for himself. All told, Howe amassed 1,246 career points in 22 professional seasons. His 742 NHL points ranks him 13th among Hall of Fame defensemen.

Howe becomes the 62nd NHL defensemen to enter the Hall, and just the second American-born blue liner – joining New York Rangers great Brian Leetch – to be enshrined.

While Howe wasn’t part of Stanley Cup championship teams, he managed to standout as one of the league’s top defensemen, playing in four All-Star Games and leading the league with a plus-85 rating in the 1985-86 season. A converted winger, he began his pro career skating on a forward line along side his brother, Marty, and Gordie with the Houston Aeros. It was there that he averaged 34 goals and 49 assists a season, and as an 18-year-old kid was named WHA rookie of the year in 1974.

Howe, who now lives in Jackson, New Jersey, and still works for the Red Wings as director of pro scouting, grew-up in suburban Detroit and attended Southfield-Lathrup High School, where he excelled in the classroom and in athletics, including baseball.

But like his father, Mark Howe was beckoned to make hockey his life’s passion.

At 15, he led the Junior Red Wings with 37 goals and 70 assists and was named the most valuable player in the Tier II Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League. A year later, he played on the U.S. Olympic team with future NHL players Henry Boucha and Robbie Ftorek.

Howe joined his brother Marty with the Toronto Marlies for the 1972-73 Ontarion Hockey League season, where they were coached by Maple Leafs legend George Armstrong, and played with budding NHL stars like goalie Mike Palmateer and center Ron Wilson.

Howe was in Detroit this week and attended a Wings’ game with his son, Travis, and Gordie. Mark Howe sat down to discuss his life in hockey, the trials and tribulations of being the son of the most recognizable face in the sport, and what his induction this weekend ultimately means to him and the First Family of Hockey.

QUESTION: How aware are you that you helped established hockey in Detroit?
MARK HOWE: “One thing that I was very aware of was, whether we played out of the (Michigan) State Fairgrounds or Winter Wonderland or Detroit Skating Club, we used to play 25-30 games a year in our league, and then we would play another 70 games minimal, on top of our practices. And we played most of them against Canadian teams.

“For a few years we got beat, but after awhile we were a tough team then we started winning games. By the team we played with the Junior Wings we were picked dead last because they could have players from all over Canada and we had to have kids from the Detroit area. We were limited, and because we were Americans we couldn’t beat anybody, yet we won the championship of the league that year. There’s a little extra incentive, but we did it for ourselves.

“I guess the toughed thing at the time was if you went to play college hockey you had no prayer of ever playing in the National Hockey League. What I remember most is the choice of having to go to college or play junior hockey, college was out of the question at that time. Thankfully a lot of things have changed since then.”

Q: What about your role in advancing hockey in America?
“At the time there were always three States: Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota, every year. We would always contend for the national championship against those other two States. There were a lot of good players, and I just went out and played. I loved what I did and had fun doing what I did. Like I said, if someone looks back and thinks I made a difference for somebody, well, that’s an added bonus, and I’m glad I could do that. I think there were a few Americans before me, but playing for the Olympic team was a huge thrill for me.”

Q: Was hockey always your sport, or did you play other sports growing up?
“Marty was the best athlete in the family. Marty was pretty good at pretty much everything. I was a good baseball player. I was a very good golfer when I was young, but I could never play on the school golf teams because of the conflict with the schedule of hockey. I played football a little bit. The sport that I never enjoyed was basketball. I played a little bit. I wrestled. I did most everything in school.”

Q: Was there a time when you thought the Hall of Fame wasn’t going to happen?
“I spent my whole life dreaming of being a hockey player, and you dream of winning Stanley Cups. I dreamt that maybe one day I would win one and a Conn Symthe. I had high expectations, so unfortunately I never achieved those, but something I never dreamt about was being in the Hall of Fame. Once you play your career – I did the best that I could – then it’s out of your control. If you know me a little bit, you know that I look forward; I don’t look back. There was no sense in looking back. But I know that Mike Emrick’s been pushing for me, probably a good 6-7 years trying to get me in. So after I did get in, I wrote Mike Emrick. I didn’t want to thank him for getting me in. But what I thanked him for was the fact that he believed that I belonged there. That’s what means the most to me.”

Q: How special is it to follow your dad into the Hall of Fame?
“It means so much more to me because dad’s here to share it. I have my family and good friends around me. That’s what it means to me. Whether it validates or doesn’t validate, I did what I did on the ice, played as hard as I could and that’s all I could do. Yeah, I’m proud of the fact of my career, proud of the accomplishments that I had as an individual, and with the teams that I played with. That’s the only thing that I could control. Like I said, this means so much because I have the people around me to share in this, and the players that I played with, especially my years in Philly, where we had some really good teams, and my defense partner Brad McCrimmon. Those are the guys that I obviously wouldn’t be here without those people.”
Mark Howe finished his 22 pro season career with the Red Wings. From 1992-95, Howe collected eight goals and 56 assists in 112 games. (Getty Images)

Q: When you didn’t get into the Hall of Fame earlier, there had to be some emotions. Did you feel like you belonged in there?
“Truthfully, I never did. Somebody asked me in an interview a few years ago, and I said, ‘Well, in my opinion, there’s the elite of the elite. It’s the Howes, the Gretzkys, the Lemiuexes, the Bobby Orrs, and then there’s a few others right below that. Then there’s this other crop. And if you’re in that other crop, some get in, some don’t.

“The way I evaluated myself, I put myself in the other crop, I’m not in that elite group. So the only time that I ever thought about it was two years prior to this when I was interviewed over the radio. People up in Toronto heard rumors leaking out that I was close to getting in, so then you think about it, and then you get your spirits up a little bit, but you don’t get a phone call. For 24-hours I got a little dejected, but then you get on with your life. It’s over and done with. Like I said, had I not gotten those phone calls, I never would have thought about it.”

Q: Now that you are going in, what makes Mark Howe a Hall of Fame player?
“I have no idea. All I know is that maybe I always didn’t show up, and maybe internally I had a fire inside of me. I competed hard.”

GORDIE: “That’s why he never drove to the rink. I drove to the rink so he would show up.”

MH: “Inside I knew what a competitor I was. I hated to lose, I was a very good skater and a very good passer, better than a lot of people. If you went to maybe a certain asset that I had, those two assets would be – not too many guys could skate with me for a lot of years.”

Q: Do you think some folks will still devalue the WHA part of your career?
“I know that I got close to 1,250 points and played like 1,400 games, whatever it was. I don’t read newspapers, I didn’t read articles about myself. I didn’t read anything to do about hockey. My mom basically taught me how to set my own goals, my own standards, how to evaluate myself, and I have to live with myself every day. There were days when I was not happy with the games that I played, and there were days when I was happy. And it didn’t matter what anybody said in the paper. That’s how I’ve always lived my life.”

Q: What were the measuring sticks that your mom taught you?
“Most of it is growing up the son of Gordie Howe because everywhere you went, and like we talked earlier about being an American and growing up a Detroit kid, when you played in the Canadian cities you got spit on and treated like trash because you’re an American. You got it from 6-7 years on up. And you have to learn to control your emotions as a young kid. Then as you get older, a part from being an American now, you’re Gordie Howe’s son and it put more limelight on you. And people would always make comparisons. Well, if I tried to compare my career to his it’s a lose-lose situation. So what my mom basically taught me was, through your school work, through your hockey, and how you conduct your life away from the rink or whatever, it’s set your own values, your standards. What do you want to do in your life? And when you meet your expectations then you’re happy. When you don’t meet your expectations, you’re ticked off at yourself. It didn’t matter what (Gordie) did, it didn’t matter what you wrote, it didn’t matter what he said, I didn’t care what Mike Keenan said, I didn’t care what any coach said, because I had my values of what I expected out of myself.”

Q: Has the son of Gordie Howe, did you have to find hockey on your own?
“No. It was a no-brainer. I enjoyed do all the other stuff. But I knew I’d be a hockey player.”

Q: Were you ever intimidated being Gordie’s son?
“No, it helped.”

MH: “Actually, I probably had more of my mother’s genes. My mother was a very strong woman. She had very strong legs. Obviously, I got a lot of his too, but my mom was a very strong woman.”

Q: What is the story behind you moving from forward to defense?
“It was the last year that we played in Houston, we had some injuries and Billy Dineen put me back on defense. I was paired with Poul Popiel, ex-Red Wing, about 30 to 40 games, something like that. We had some injuries and I had just came off a separated shoulder. Why Billy put me there, I don’t know. Then I got back to playing forward for a couple years.

“Then we ended up in Hartford when the leagues merged together. We were playing a game in Buffalo. I think it was maybe Game 4 or Game 5 of the season, something like that. I went into the locker room and in the morning I skated left wing. That night I came in and someone had put my name down as a defenseman. I erased it on the board and put it back at left wing. The coaches came in and said, ‘Who’s screwing with the board?’ I thought someone was messing around. I said it would have been nice if they would have let me practice at forward first.

“I’ll never forget my first shift. My partner pinched, and then Gilbert Perreault came down one-on-one, and I was terrified. But he lost the puck and I was out of breath, but that’s how it basically started for me.

“Believe me I made a lot of mistakes. But I was a very good skater, I was quick, and I could make up for a lot of mistakes. And I give a lot of credit, and I have for a lot of years, to Eddie Van Impe, who when I got to Philadelphia, Eddie used to come on the ice with the team periodically, and Eddie used to say to me, ‘What can I teach you, you’re up for the Norris?’ It’s amazing because he told me how he played the game with his being on the opposite ends of the spectrum, and his lack of mobility. He was obviously tough as nails, and he told me the guidelines and how you position your hips when you’re backing up and how to evaluate who you are playing against. Typically, they say, ‘Two-on-one, take the pass away and let this guy shoot.’ He would say, ‘No. I’ve got Brett Hull here and Kris Draper over here. I want the puck on Kris Draper’s stick. I don’t want Brett Hull shooting. So you cheat to this side and make him make the pass. You dictate as a defenseman.’ These are the types of things that he taught me.

“Then back in Philly, they used to replay the games every night on Prism. I guess that’s what eventually became Comcast. So we would go out after games, and I would come home and sit and watch the two or three mistakes that I would make in the game. They didn’t do video back then, so I would sit and stay up to 2:30-3 in the morning, and hopefully I made my mistakes early so I wouldn’t have to stay awake so long. But if I made a mistake late in the game I wanted to see it. You would watch what you did wrong and try to figure out what you did wrong, and try not to do it again, and you would become better.”
Mark Howe played five seasons with the Whalers, including two WHA seasons with his dad, Gordie, and brother, Marty. (Getty Images)

Q: When did you feel comfortable as a defenseman?
“I started feeling a lot better, I think it was my second year in Hartford, just prior to when I had that injury where I ran into the net. I was really strong and I could easily play 30-32 minutes a night, no problem. I think I was like eighth or ninth in scoring in the league. I used to play at 192-, 193-pounds. After that injury, I think I never played at higher than 186. As unlucky as I was with the injury, I was really, really lucky.

“They didn’t have the training and the conditioning things in Hartford that they have now, so I think after that injury I spend about most of a month in or out of the hospital with infections and different things before I started to get better. I played a game six weeks later in Philly and I was a 172-pounds. I played at 170-something for the rest of that year, and I was horrible, and I was bad the next year too. It took me a year before I started feeling better again. Then I went in and the Hartford people were unhappy with me. I had a no-trade, so I went in and asked for a trade, and maybe 2-3 months later, I got my wish.”

Q: Can you tell us about the injury?
“Well, we were playing the Islanders. It was a 3-on-2. I forget who my defense partner was, but he took a guy into the boards, so I had net-coverage. John Tonelli was driving the lane, and I think (Brian) Trottier was filling the slot. I pivoted so I could basically reach both guys with my stick if they were close enough. Just as Tonelli went by, he accidentally brushed me from behind as I was heading toward the net. As I was facing the net, because I had pivoted, and as I’m going toward the net, everything was in a split second. But when you’re in the zone it takes forever. I was going into the net, and I knew I had a bad back so I put my foot up to absorb the shock with my knees so my back wouldn’t get hurt. As I went in, the net went up and the (deflector) plate went in right where my rectum is and it came out about near my right hip. It went in about 5 1/2-6 inches.

“I thought I was dying. I was panicking and I look up and Nicky Fotiu is standing there and his eyeballs are this big, and it just scared me. Then we got into the locker room, and poor dad had to be there to watch the game. He comes into the room and says, ‘I want to see the injury.’ And the doctor says, ‘No.’ And dad is holding me hand and he looks at the injury and damn near breaks my hand. All I kept asking the doctor was, ‘Am I going to live?’ He kept playing with my toes, because he was checking to see if I was paralyzed, because it just missed my spinal column. It just missed all of the major muscle-tissue coming through. Naturally, I was really, really lucky because then I lost some much blood, like 4 ½ pints of blood. So I know what shock is now.

“Dad went in the ambulance to the hospital and we sat there for at least an hour before an attending physician showed up. He was on call and having a family dinner and somebody said that somebody needs some stitches. So he just took his time coming down there. Then when he got down there he was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ Then my panic set in. I guess I was in surgery for 5-6 hours, something like that. But like I said, shock was a good thing that day. It kind of took me out of the fear spot that I was in.

“I wanted to know if I was going to be able to play hockey again. I had to keep repeating myself until they finally answered. But he (doctor) said that his biggest concern was the sphincter muscle. Some of the tissue had been cut, so they were worried about me going to the bathroom, so I wouldn’t have to wear a colostomy bag. I passed the test like four days later, so I was OK.”

Q: Were there times in the hospital when you thought it was over?
“No. What I remember the most, because I was in there for five days, one day I was in there, maybe it was Day 3 or Day 4 and I hadn’t been out of bed yet. I kept trying, but I kept throwing up real bad. They came in and told me that I had to get up out of bed and start walking. And I tried and I couldn’t, and it ended up being the medication that I was on, a lot of Demoral. So I remember dad picked me up, he held me, and said, ‘You’re going to walk.’ I said, ‘I’m going to throw-up all over you.’ And he said, ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’ So he helped walk me around the room. I think I threw-up around five times. And later on that day there were about 4-5 people in all the rooms round me, everybody passed away that day. That got me motivated to get the hell out of there. That was a tough time.”

Q: How scary was it to see Mark get hurt?
“I went home and threw-up. You never want to see you kid get hurt.”

Q: Did the NHL do away with the deflector plate the following year?
“It was a couple of years later. I had to file a lawsuit. What happened was when my daughter was born, I was in Hartford and I went in to do my wills and the lawyer who was doing my wills was at the game and he started talking about it. And he said, ‘You must have sued them?’ And I said, ‘No, I didn’t sue them.’ And he took my wills and pushed them aside.

“But the reason that I wanted to sue was the league’s opinion was it was a rare injury and it would never happen again. Well, I knew Garry Monahan had gone in and had it pierce his hamstring in Vancouver, and there was another guy where it went through his forearm. So I knew of at least two other incidents. My biggest fear was if my son Travis grew-up and played hockey, and if he ever got hurt, I never would have forgave myself.

“It was more a lawsuit to get the league to change. And the next summer I got traded to Philly and I didn’t name the NHL in the suit, but eventually I had to because the other people brought them in. Jay Snider brought me in and told me, ‘We’re behind you 100%. We’re going to do what we can.’ It was just to make the game safer for everybody else.”

Q: Everywhere you went you were Gordie Howe’s kid, what was that like growing up as a kid?
“It’s what I know. The toughest part – it wasn’t tough for me – but I guess the toughest part is that you’re carrying that name on your back. If there is a tough thing about it is that he has a reputation. I knew growing up as a child that if I did something wrong, or really wrong – if you’re at a party and somebody’s got drugs, or somebody’s done something – out of all the people there, it’s going to be his name that’s in the paper. I knew that. So for me, if I went to parties and drugs showed up I made a u-turn and hit the door. I don’t think that’s a sacrifice, it wasn’t for me, so that was, if it was a down-side, that’s your down-side.

“The upside, you can go almost anywhere in Canada, North America, especially here in Detroit, with that name, I can walk into anywhere. I used to go to Olympia and skate all day, everyday by myself. I used to be the stick boy for the team and used to travel. I used to go to training camps and they used to put me in the lineup as a 13-, 14-year–old kid in Port Huron. I was a big kid, I haven’t grown since I was 14, so I was pretty good size compared to the players back then. All the liberties that I had as Gordie Howe’s son were just fantastic.

“I traveled with the team if one of the trainers got sick, yeah. I remember one time at Christmas when (someone) got sick, so I spend Christmas with the team in Pittsburgh with my dad. When other teams would come in – dad was pretty good friends with a lot of the players, like Johnny Bower, Bobby Hull, a lot of these guys – whenever they would come to town they would bring me in to be the stick boy for the other team and stuff. I was a rink rat, but I think a lot of kids were.

“Eddie Shack was great. They used to have the 45 (RPM record), ‘Gordie Howe is the Greatest of Them All’, and I was in the locker room one day. Part of the job was getting autographs and sticks and different things. And they used to have one training table in the middle of the room. And as I was going around the room getting autographs I got to Eddie and he started singing this ‘Gordie Howe is the Greatest of Them All’. I turned a thousands shades of red and all of the guys were hooting and hollering and I felt like running out the back door.”

Q: What are your career accomplishments?
“I guess I don’t look at it that way. As a kid my goals were to play 10 years. I played 22. I guess what I’m most proud of is six out of the 22 years that I played I got to the finals. Obviously you have to be with some good teams.

“A lot of people think of me as an offensive defenseman. I thought I was just the opposite. I thought I was a defensive defenseman who knew how to create offense. I thought I was an intelligent player. I knew how to play the odds and keep the puck out of our net.”

Q: Who is prouder of you going into the Hall of Fame, you or your dad?
“I think it would mean more to him. I think anybody with children, I’ve said many times, anything my children do or achieve will mean far more to me than anything I’ve done in my lifetime. I grew up with those standards from our household, so he doesn’t have to say it, I know exactly how he feels.”

Q: What do you see of you in your son?
“The love of the game. But as good as he was he still asked questions. I played with good players for a long time. … When he had the uniform on, he was all hockey.”

Q: Were you protective of your boys when you played together?
“Mark was too fast to need help. I think the first three games we had fights. Someone sent one (player) over to get one of the boys. Cut him around the neck with his stick. I skated over to their bench and I got three of them with one swoop. I told them, ‘My boy as a patch on over here, and if you do it again, you’ll need more than a patch.’ ”

MH: “That’s one of the things that I had to tell dad one time. I think we were six weeks into the season in our first year in Houston. We rarely ever threw the puck in, but if the defense had it they would throw it in, and I could be the first guy in, but as I’m getting the puck and dishing it one way or the other (bam!) I would be taking a hit. That’s part of the game. But then a second later I get a crushing hit it was (dad) hitting the guy who hit me. So it took me about six weeks to finally go up to him one day and say, ‘Look dad, I can take all of the hits in the world, but you’re killing me.’ So if he says that he was protective, he’s lying.”

Q: Were you at Gordie’s Hall of Fame induction?
“I think it used to be at a hotel right behind Maple Leaf Gardens. There was a little hotel right on the corner. I forget the name of it. It was just in a little room. I remember watching him from a table in the back of the room. I watched him like I had watched him so many times playing hockey, or my fondness memories of being at the Olympia when he scored No. 544 and No. 545. They’re probably the best memories that I have of him in hockey. There were 15,000 people screaming for 15-20 minutes. I was the only one there that could say, ‘Wow, that’s my dad.’

“That was ’72 so I had to be 16, I guess. I kind of knew by that age – I had already led the Tier II league in scoring – so I knew that I had a realistic chance of being a pro player. That’s when I stopped playing the other sports at school. I said that I wasn’t going to jeopardize a possible hockey career getting hurt doing something else. My dreams were to win a Cup and a Conn Symthe. I never ever dreamt of being in the Hall of Fame.”
Mark Howe received the Emery Edge Award for leading the NHL with the best plus-minus rating (85) in the 1985-86 season. (Getty Images)

Q: Are you the best defenseman not to win a Norris Trophy? And who else is in that conversation?
“Yeah, I’ve heard that. I did not read newspapers. I have a lot of respect for the media, but I paid zero attention to what people had to say about me. It’s all speculation; it’s peoples’ personal feelings.

“If there was one year where I had a shot to get it was probably my first year in Philly. But I honestly felt that (Rod) Langway deserved it. It had much more to do with Washington’s success than I had with Philly’s. And I was not happy with my performance. I thought that I had a good year, but not a Norris Trophy year. My best year was a couple of years later. Actually Brad McCrimmon and I used to laugh about it for every day for two months. We would go out and win a game, 6-1, and I would be a plus-4 and we would have a combined nine points between us, and we’d look in the paper and Paul Coffey had four goals. We couldn’t catch him, so we were having a little in-house laugh about it. Those were my two best years, and my best chances to win the Norris.

“I felt bad for dad the year that Langway won it, because they had dad present the trophy. It was ’82 or ’83, I guess. They had dad present it and he gave it to Rod Langway. I talked to Rod after and I said, ‘Hey, congratulations’ and I truly felt that he deserved it.”

Q: How emotional will this weekend be for you?
“I think I’m very emotional. Just taking the time to reflect, writing speeches and doing different things. I had a game down in Tampa, so on the flight down I wrote my speech for the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, and then on the way back I wrote my Hockey Hall of Fame speech. Emotions get to you.

“My biggest thing, I just want to acknowledge the people that I have a lot of respect for. For the people who helped me in my career, and obviously family. And when you think of things like that, yeah, it’s nice emotions.

“When the Hall called, the wheels started spinning right away. There are a few names that are very important for me to mention, and at least they limit your speech to five minutes. But then I met Cammi Granato in Traverse City, and with her induction last year, she said that she’s done a lot of public speaking, but that that was the toughest thing she’s ever had to do. The emotions really got the best of her. So I’m happy with my speech, I just hope that I can deliver it. If I could pay somebody to deliver it, it would be better yet.”

Q: Who are some of the people that you will mention?
“You’ll hear it.”

Q: You’re mom isn’t here to see it, and that obviously has to be emotional.
“Yeah, sure. I think I have a line in there where I say, ‘God, I wish you were here.’ But if anybody knew my mother, they knew what a positive, positive person that she was, and the way she knew that this day would come.”

Q: Did you play a lot of hockey in the backyard?
“Growing up in Lathrup Village we lived off of Sunset Drive. And we had a driveway that dissected the lot and we used to put the rink over here, but it was too far for mom and dad to get the hose over there at three in the morning. So then we figured out if we put it in the front yard and I could go and get some wood from homes that they were building then I could put up Christmas lights so I could play hockey at night. That was my ingenious idea.

“We did that for a few years until, unfortunately, we had a picture window in the front yard and we broke the picture window. (Dad) was out of town, and that didn’t go over too well. We broke about 12-13 windows. We had the garage with the kitchen (behind it) and then a hallway with the bathroom and the dining room, and the living room was at the far end of the house. I would be shooting and shooting, and I would have the garage door closed and I would hear, bang, and bang, and bang. And my mom finally said, ‘Just put the garage door up.’ Fine, and I did, and one day I shot and missed the net, through the window and through the house. I found my tennis ball under the sofa on the far end of the house. That was it; put the door down again.

“I used to have the best street hockey games with all of the old equipment that they used to have at Olympia. I used to get the nets. I used to have Terry Sawchuk’s goalie equipment, all the sticks. So it was easy for me to get kids over to play games. Those were first-class street hockey games.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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