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Howe about that!

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – It’s a day that Mark Howe thought would never come.

Marty and Mark Howe (R) with their dad at Gordie's 80th birthday celebration in 2008.

But it did today when the four-time NHL All-Star – and the second oldest child to hockey legend Gordie Howe -- learned he will join the family patriarch as the second father-son player entries into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Mark Howe will be inducted into the Class of 2011 along side goalie Ed Belfour and forwards Doug Gilmour and Joe Nieuwendyk on Nov. 11 in Toronto.

“I know that Jimmy Devellano had been doing a lot of leg work and pushing for me. Between him and Scotty (Bowman) and Mike Emrick all the work paid off,” Mark Howe told in an exclusive phone interview. “It’s one of those things that I never thought would happen. The last couple of years I’ve gotten close, but you get to the point where you don’t think it’s going to happen. You get that phone call, and it just kind of shocked me. You can’t explain what a tremendous honor it is. It’s something that I’ve never dreamt of, but I know how much it means to dad.”

Gordie Howe, who was inducted in 1972, was the only person that Mark wasn’t able to share his news with Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve talked to my kids, but dad is traveling to Toronto today, so I haven’t gotten to speak to him yet.”

A converted forward, Mark Howe played 16 NHL seasons with the Hartford Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers and Red Wings. He began his pro career at 18-years-old with the WHA’s Houston Areos, and played on a line with older brother, Marty, and their famous dad.

After four years in Houston, the Howes signed on with the New England Whalers, where Mark and Gordie remained following the WHA-NHL merger.

“For me, I spent my whole life as a forward and then midstream in my career – the year of the merger – I got moved from forward to defense, and I became an All-Star as a defenseman two or three years later,” Mark said. “That’s a hard transition that takes a long time. It takes a real commitment. It was something that was asked of me by the team, so you put aside your personal goals and do what’s good for the team.”

An unfortunate on-ice accident in his second NHL season nearly ended Mark Howe’s career. It was in the third period when the defenseman slid feet-first into the Whalers’ net at the Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 27, 1980.

Often described as one of the worst injuries in the history of the sport, Howe drew contact from Islanders forward John Tonelli and immediately fell to the ice and slid back-first into the net where his upper thigh and buttock were impaled on a piece of metal that used to rim the bottom of the goal cages.

“John Tonelli was driving the net, and I turned facing the net so I could cover the guy in the slot and deflect the pass if it came to the net,” Howe recalled. “John and I were linemates in Houston for two years and we had incidental contact that immediately knocked me off my feet, and I went sliding.

“I actually thought I was dying then. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I sure was scared for my life that day.”

It wasn’t long after Howe’s injury that the NHL eliminated the use of deflector plates in goal cages.

“The way the old nets used to be designed, it was like a piece of sheet metal at the bottom of the net and it was designed to deflect the puck into the top of the net,” Howe said. “It pierced into me about 5-6 inches. I was so lucky to be alive after that, and even luckier that I wasn’t paralyzed, because it scrapped up where my rectum is and just missed my spinal cord. Had that thing gone in me a quarter of an inch either way, I would have been wearing a colostomy bag or it would have been over. As bad as it was, I was extremely lucky.”

Howe lost three quarts of blood, and if not for the quick-thinking medical staff, he may have bleed to death. He was carted off the ice on a stretcher and rushed to a hospital.

“It really set my career back quite a bit,” Howe said. “The night that I got hurt I was eighth or ninth in scoring in the league.  I remember weighing myself before that game and I was 192-pounds. I came back six weeks later and weighed 172. It took me a long time to recover a lot of the strength.”

Mark Howe finished his 22-season playing career with 405 goals and 841 assists in 1,355 games, including his final three seasons with the Red Wings between 1992 and 1995. Born in Detroit, Howe wrapped up his career by scoring eight goals with 56 assists in 122 games with the Red Wings.

But the most impressive statistics of Howe’s career is his astonishing overall plus-653 rating.

“That means a lot to me. It’s big when you’re on the ice scoring goals and you’re not being scored-against,” said Howe, the Red Wings’ director of pro scouting. “I know I did a lot of good things offensively, but I probably took more pride in not being scored-against, and only the guys that I played with only know that.”

Though he never won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman, he finished in the top six among NHL plus-minus leaders four times, including first with a plus-85 rating during the 1985-86 season.

Howe was first eligible for enshrinement in 1998, three years after his final season in Detroit. He won’t dwell on the past and the length of time it took to get into the Hall. Time is too short, Howe said.

“I never thought that I would make it to this Hall of Fame,” he said. “I’m definitely excited. I’m emotional. But it’s all in a good way.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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