Gordie Howe retired from the NHL in 1980 as the all-time leading scorer with 801 goals and 1,850 points. He led many other statistical categories but one he surely didn't lead is the unofficial one that came to bear his name, "the Gordie Howe Hat Trick," which is a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game.
We'll never know for sure because no one kept that statistic until The Hockey News started in 1996. For awhile, the leader was current Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet -- like Howe, a rugged customer with good hockey skills.
Then Tocchet was overtaken by Brendan Shanahan, who retired earlier this year to become NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Development. According to the weekly's records, Shanahan had 17 Gordie Howe Hat Tricks. The "honor" took Shanahan by surprise.
"I'd never heard of it until I'd had quite a few of them," said Shanahan, whose NHL career began in 1987. "It didn't get media attention until four or five years ago. They started counting in my 10th year. One list had me at nine and then they went back and counted and found more. No teammate ever mentioned it to me until my last one.
"All of a sudden, someone would print these lists every time Gordie had a birthday. By then, I was too old to get more. Players might be more aware of it now. If you get two of the three, someone might say, 'Hey, all you need is a goal.' I think it happens more if you have a fight and one of those two other things. Nobody ever says, 'Hey, you've got a goal and an assist, go get in a fight.'"
Howe had 22 fights in the NHL, according to a 2008 article by Jeff Marek on CBCsports.ca. He twice fought Toronto's Bill Ezinicki, one of the toughest NHL players of all time. He had three fights with Fernie Flaman, a rugged Hall of Fame defenseman. Rocket Richard went half-crazy after a fight with Howe, striking a referee and getting suspended. Howe's most famous fight was a toe-to-toe job with New York's Lou Fontinato, the NHL's toughest player, that left Fontinato's face mangled.
Gordie wasn't one to stand on ceremony, or be over-awed by one, either. He twice fought in the NHL All-Star Game, taking on Gus Mortson in 1948 and Mike "Shaky" Walton in 1968, although in the latter case they received only roughing minors.
Gordie Howe got his first Gordie Howe Hat Trick on Oct. 11, 1953 against the Maple Leafs when he assisted on Red Kelly's goal, scored his own, and fought Flaman for the third time. His second occurred in the same season, March 21, 1954, when he scored the opening goal against the Maple Leafs and assisted on two Ted Lindsay goals. He also nearly high-sticked Ted "Teeder" Kennedy's ear off before they fought.
That, right there, was the essence of Gordie Howe, who would wait half a career, if necessary, for revenge. Howe, a young player then, had attempted to check Kennedy, an established star, in Game 1 of the 1950 Stanley Cup Semifinal. But Kennedy slipped the check and Howe went head-first into the boards and required emergency brain surgery. His teammates felt Kennedy had helped make the situation worse and targeted Kennedy thereafter. Howe closed out the matter with his second and final Gordie Howe Hat Trick. Maybe he was going to throw the bull's ear to the crowd. Ole!
Gordie Howe Hat Tricks are unusual but not rare. Nine players have done it in the NHL this year: Brian McGrattan, Francois Beauchemin, Jared Boll, Chris Stewart, Zack Stortini, Ian Laperriere, Jason Chimera, Brandon Dubinsky and Rick Nash.
Dubinsky has the best chance of breaking Shanahan's record. He has terrific offensive skills and he plays like he's got a rash and someone just stole his watch.