Howie Feels The Habs Are………….

There is someone very interesting living across the water from me, just over on Vancouver Island, and I wanted to find out what he thought about a couple of things, including the Habs.

So I phoned him.

Howie Meeker played eight years in the NHL, between 1946 and 1953, and all eight were with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He beat out Gordie Howe for rookie of the year, and although he played with and against legendary and mighty warriors during the golden age of hockey, he says he doesn’t dwell on the past. “That was then and this is now,” he says. I don’t think about it.”

 After Howie retired he coached the Leafs for a season, became a Member of Parliament, and probably his biggest claim to fame was the gig he found himself in when hecame an outspoken and much-talked-about Hockey Night in Canada analyst in the 1970′s and 80′s. He also sounds the same now as he did then.

My little phone call with Howie wasn’t exactly award-winning, because I’m no Peter Mansbridge or Ron MacLean or George Stroumboulopoulos. I just tried to shoot the breeze with him and I think he got bored with me quite quickly. He doesn’t know me, I was interrupting his day and his oyster shucking, and I understand that. But it thrills me when I can chat with someone from back then.

I asked what he thought of this year’s Habs. “A lot of heart,” he said, “but too small.” But, I countered, is small such a bad thing? “You bet,” he said. “Small guys have to play the game of their lives every single night. They must be number one stars all the time.”

It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to hear. I wanted him to say that even though they’re small, they can win. But he didn’t. (And hey Tomas Plekanec. Howie says small guys have to play the game of their lives.)

What do you think of the Canucks playoff run so far? “They’re toast,” said Howie. “Kesler’s done nothing. The playoffs are a step faster and tougher, and Kesler hasn’t been tough. He’s called a power forward but nowadays, he’s too small to be called a power forward.”

Then came the question I like to ask of any oldtimer. What he thought of the Rocket. “I HATED THE SON OF A BITCH,” he said in his raised and good old Howie Meeker voice. “I hated the way he played. I thought he was a no good, rotten……….But I got to know him later on when I was doing HNIC, and I really got to like him.”

I also asked him something I’ve been curious about for many years. I’d always heard that Busher Jackson, part of the famous Leafs ‘Kid Line’  of Jackson, Joe Primeau, and Charlie Conacher, had a real drinking problem and had become destitute in his later years, even selling Leafs game sticks on Carlton St. outside Maple Leaf Gardens.

But Howie set me straight. “Busher was a great guy. I knew him well. And he was the best player on that line.” But what about him becoming destitute? “Not so, said Howie. “He happened to like drinking and Conn Smythe disliked him for some reason because of this, made a big deal of it, and kept him out of the Hall of Fame for years.

Howie was also one of the Leaf forwards on the ice when Bill Barilko scored his famous Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal in the 1951 finals against the Habs, and when I brought this up, he shot back, “I should have scored it. I hit the post. And then big dum-dum skates in and scores.”

And then, without warning – “Gotta go,” Howie announced. “I’m shucking oysters.” And that was that.

In the famous photo below, that’s Howie being pinned against the boards by Tom Johnson after he had passed the puck out to Barilko. (Barilko would later die that summer in a plane crash in Northern Ontario.)

You can see a couple of other retired player chats I’ve had, right here Drinking beer with Aurele Joliat and here, Shooting the breeze with Terry Harper.

I also asked Glenn Hall once about the Rocket and he said Gordie Howe was better. Another answer I didn’t want to hear.

17 thoughts on “Howie Feels The Habs Are………….”

  1. gosh golly, jiminy crickets, jumpin’ bejeeszus dennis, how could he get bored talking with yuuuuu about the habs? oh yeh, he was a leaf.

  2. Great post. When you stop talking about the Habs for half a second, you’ve got some interesting stuff.

  3. You know, I never did like his school segments on HNIC.
    I’ll take hating The Rocket and the way he played as a compliment. But calling Barilko a dum-dum after he won them the Stanley Cup is classless.

  4. Chris, the dum-dum thing is pretty odd for sure. But I just took it as an 86 year old guy saying it. But it is very weird, you’re right, Barilko won the Cup for them, but Howie always was outspoken like that and a bit loopy.

  5. Sometimes i think these old guys get lost in time. They talk about hockey players being to small in this era and they make it sound like they played against giants or something. Especially coming from a guy who was 5’8 165 according to his 1952 hockey card. Ask Martin St.Louis, Patrick Kane, Alex Burrows, Danny Briere or Mike Cammalleri (just to name a few) if being small obligates them to play the game of there life every night. It makes you wonder if some of the hockey players from the past even pay attention to hockey anymore? The times have changed and its a more skilled league now where smaller guys can make up for there lack of size with speed and talent. The comment that i found most comical though was his opinion of Ryan Kesler. 1. He has 9 points in 11 games so hes obviously doing something right. 2 Hes 6’2 and is 200+ pounds, and plays through any injury he has and never misses a shift so i wouldnt be to quick to question his toughness. If Kesler was playing in howie meekers day he would be considered a giant. I like listening to the old players talk about the glory years and retell/exaggerate good old hockey stories but when guys like Ted Lindsay and apparently Howie Meeker talk about the players of today it makes you wonder if they even know what they are talking about.

  6. Good points, Jordy. Howie always was a bit out in left field. Very opinionated. I’d take Kesler on the Habs any day. And what’s he going to say if both the Habs and Canucks keep going? Jordy, some of these old guys are great, like Beliveau, who talks about the old days and the game today ina very intelligent manner. Others don’t. Meeker was outrageous often when he was a TV guy, and still has this same personality. 5’8, 165 pounds. Hmm.

  7. Shucks!

    Pearls of wisdom from the old clam himself.

    If the Habs play as well as Dennis (and Howie) can tell stories we will surely win the Cup this year.

  8. Hey Dennis, Howie is a different sort of guy but likeable enough.I coached a weekend hockey school in Gold River back in the early 90′s,he and his brother came for it,he is quite knowledgeable when it comes to hockey,he cracked me up a few times,hated my Hab boxer shorts as we changed in the same dressing room,apparently he wasn’t a great Hab fan,disliked them if I remember correctly.The kids enjoyed him and learned a bit as well.I think that you have spoken to a few of the older players now,keeps your website humming along as it is good to hear what is happening with these folks now.

  9. Dennis,

    I was going to mention Jean Beliveau. I listened to him talk a few nights ago about todays hockey and he is definitely with it, You can really tell he follows it. Like i said i really enjoy listening to the legends talk about there glory days and when they can also still give credit to todays game. I understand why some of the older guys may be sour about todays players and the game in general due to the money they make and how pampered the players can be. As far as Meekers size and weight, i really have no idea what it is, I just looked on the back of his 52′ parkie card and thats what it said. I’ll be pulling for your habs tonight but in return you have to cheer for the canucks tomorrow. I gotta say im really enjoying watching the habs right now, If they can pull it off tonight I think big things may be on the horizon for them.

  10. Thanks, Jordy. Believe me, I’m pulling for the Canucks. I want a Habs-Canucks final. Wouldn’t that be something?

  11. It would be great. Are friendship might have to go on hold for a week or so but as the players do we’ll leave it on the ice when its all finished lol

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