Tag Archives: Gordie Howe

Cream Of The Crop

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Howe

Gretzky

The best ever? It’s been written and talked about forever.

I don’t care. I want to talk about it too. It’s cold and I don’t want to go out.

There’s no real definitive answer I think, but it can be broken down in stages.

Howie Morenz in the 20s and 30s. Maurice Richard’s name was added in the 40s. Gordie Howe and the Rocket in the 50s.

It was all Howe in the 1960s, although Bobby Hull’s name was tossed around by some, and Bobby Orr showed up in the latter part of the 1960s and into the 70s.

Then Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky came along and ruled the 80s and 90s.

Gretzky’s name comes up much more than Mario’s, but Mario, before he got sick, would take a back seat to no one and ended with 1723 points in 915 regular season games, including an 85-goal season in ’88-89.

Maybe Mario is underrated when it comes time to talk about the best ever. He was big and smart with hands of gold.

Sidney Crosby is great of course, but he’s not in this stratosphere. Not yet at least. I wonder if some would disagree about that.

Usually, it boils down to three guys when this topic comes up – Howe, Orr, and Gretzky.

My choice is Bobby Orr.

Although I would see Gordie Howe play a number of times over the years on television (once live at Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid-’60s), he never seemed to completely control the flow of the game the way Orr did, although I know Howe was in a league of his own in almost every department.

Orr’s two years older than me and comes from the same area of Ontario. We were worlds apart as players of course, but at least I can say I  played in many of the same barns as him, maybe against some of the same guys he played against in town like Midland and Huntsville and Gravenhurst. I feel some sort of Central/Northern Ontario connection in a way.

Bobby Orr was a minor league phenom and we were talking about him with envy when we were kids. We knew about him. We heard about his exploits. Parry Sound kids my age came down to Orillia to play and I think our teams played there too. And we watched his brother Ron when his Junior C Parry Sound team played in Orillia.

I saw Orr a few times in Orillia over the years, including a night at the Atherley Arms Hotel when he was at a table with friends and a guy with a few too many drinks in his belly came up to Bobby and was rude and vulgar, which wasn’t cool.

I also by chance walked by him and his wife Peggy in the Orillia park one day and said hi, and they both smiled and said hi back.

I saw him play when he was 16 in an exhibition game in Bracebridge. He was with the Oshawa Generals at the time, but on this night he suited up with the Orillia Terriors senior team against a Muskoka all-star senior team. Orr had the puck all night, and we could see other players – talented, grown men – laughing and shaking their heads at how good this teenager was.

Orr skated like no other defenceman, he had different bursts of speed, he charged the net and racked up points like no other defenceman, and he controlled the play like no other player on the ice. He was also strong and smart, and when it came time to drop the gloves, he could be nasty.

That’s a complete player to me. He did it all and cruelly it didn’t last long because of his bad knees (10 seasons in Boston and a short stint in Chicago). But what a player he was before his knees did him in.

Orr himself says Gordie Howe was the best ever. He played against Howe and watched Gretzky throughout 99′s career. But it’s Howe he chooses, as do many.

Howe wasn’t flashy like the Rocket, Orr and Gretzky, but every pass from him was on the tape, his shot was as hard or harder than any player in the league, he was as good or better a goal scorer as there was, and he was a mean hombre, the toughest player in the league. Punches that crushed noses.

No one dared fight him. He struck fear into the hearts of others, but they respected him. To go into the corners with him was never a good thing. His elbows were legendary.

And of course Wayne Gretzky. You need a fancy calculator and about an hour to tally his records. There’s a legion of players and fans who insist he’s the greatest ever. It’s been said often that in the heat of battle, he thought two or three plays ahead. It was ridiculous how he could rack up the points.

But I go with Bobby Orr. Orr had it figured out ahead of time like Gretzky did. It’s some sort of miraculous instinct. He was a better skater than Gretzky, there’s no comparison in toughness, and he collected reams of points even though he was a defenceman.

He also comes from my neck of the woods and from the same era, which is important to me.

The only Boston Bruin I was ever a fan of.

 

 

1974 Team Cyrillic

The picture below was sent to me from a friend in Leningrad in the mid-1980s.

Team Canada 1974, stars from the rival WHA, taking on Kharlamov, Mikhailov, and Tretiak two years after the big one. (results at the bottom).

Rick Ley, second in the top row, was a boyhood friend growing up in Orillia, who knocked my front tooth out by accident when throwing a baseball. And he borrowed my hockey gloves and never gave them back.

Five players suited up at one time or another with the Habs – JC Tremblay, Rejean Houle, Ralph Backstrom, Marc Tardif, and Frank Mahovlich.

Three players on this Team Canada ’74 squad also played in the historic 1972 Summit Series before bolting to the WHA  – Paul Henderson, Mahovlich, and Pat Stapleton.

1974

Down the left side are coaches Billy Harris, Bobby Hull, and Pat Stapleton.

Top row left to right – Don McLeod, Rick Ley, J.C. Tremblay, Mike Walton, Rejean Houle

2nd row – Brad Selwood, Andre Lacroix, Tom Webster, Gordie Howe, Marty Howe

3rd row – Mark Howe, Ralph Backstrom, Tom Harrison, Rick Smith, Paul Shmyr

4th row – Paul Henderson, Serge Bernier, Bruce MacGregor, Marc Tardiff, John McKenzie

5th row – Al Hamilton, Frank Mahovlich, Gerry Cheevers

USSR Wins Series 4-1-3

Mr. Goalie

He came to Powell River in 1997 when the Allan Cup was on, and I asked him if I could buy him breakfast the next day. He said sure, we did, we talked hockey, and then I gave him a tour of the area in my little Hyundai Excel.

A real nice fellow, this Western Canadian farmer dubbed “Mr. Goalie”. When I asked him who the greatest ever was, he didn’t even have to think about it. Gordie Howe could do everything better than anybody else, he said, including Gretzky, whom he never played against of course, and Bobby Orr.

Glenn Hall, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975, was the goalie in nets for the St. Louis Blues when Bobby Orr scored his famous “flying through the air” Stanley Cup winner in the spring of 1970.

Glenn Hall

Orr

What About Claude?

Everyone’s going on and on about this being Gordie Howe’s birthday, and that’s fine. Happy birthday Gordie.

But what about Claude Bourque? What’s he, chopped liver?

Claude Bourque was born on this day, March 31, 1915, and if he wouldn’t have died in 1982, he would’ve been alive and really old now.

Bourque was the Habs goaltender for 61 games between 1938 and 1940 and he was also loaned to the Detroit Red Wings, Howe’s future team, for one game in 1940. (they lost). At that time, Howe was only 12, so Bourque would’ve stopped him almost every time in the warmup if Howe was playing. But nobody mentions Claude’s birthday.

There’s hardly any difference in these two players, but for whatever reason, Howe gets all the ink. So what that Bourque was a goalie and Howe a forward? They both enjoyed lengthy careers, with Gordie playing 1767 NHL games and Bourque 62. And they were born almost in the same neighborhood, – Howe in Saskatchewan and Bourque in Nova Scotia. Not only that, they were close in size, with Gordie at 6’0, 205 pounds, and Claude just a couple of inches shorter and slightly lighter at 5’6, 140.

It’s uncanny, the similarities. But it seems it’s all about Howe.

I for one am celebrating Claude Bourque’s birthday today, not Howe’s. Happy birthday, Claude.

C. Bourque

Kovy Calls It A Day

Kovalev

Former Hab Alex Kovalev is packing it in after 20 years in the bigs. He’d given it a shot this year in Florida but managed just 14 games before Father Time gave him the final nudges to exit stage left.

Kovalev played four full seasons with Montreal between 2005 and 2009, plus 12 games prior in 2003, and managed 264 total points as a member of the bleu, blanc et rouge.

We all know what this guy was. Great, lousy, brilliant, lazy, genius, head-scratching, and sometimes dazzling and often not. When he was on his game, he was one of the best. When he wasn’t, we wanted to string him up and let the buzzards pick at him.

All in all, it was time to wrap things up for the talented Russian. In the world of pro hockey, unless you’re Gordie Howe, a 40-year old forward is just way too old.

 

Anne And Gordie

Gordie Howe was in Montreal for an Eaton’s appearance tour in the 1970′s, and while there he did a T.V. taping session with singer Anne Murray. The taping was at the Forum, and Anne wore Howe’s sweater while Howe wore John Ferguson’s.

Murray was quoted in Gerry Patterson’s book “Behind The Superstars” as saying to Howe, “This is my girlfriend’s coat and she wants you to touch it all over. But wait till I put it on.”

Howe playfully asked Patterson, “Hey, corporate coordinator, I’ve got Fergy’s sweater on. Is it okay if I attack her?”

Just some good, old-fashioned flirting.

Gerry Patterson, who passed away in 2005, ran a successful sports management team that looked after the affairs of Jean Beliveau, Howe, Guy Lafleur, Rusty Staub, Nancy Greene, and many others.

Anne and Gordie

When They Were Young

My almost complete (missing four) 1954-55 Parkhurst set. And yes, it’s not a mint set and that’s fine. I like them just the way they are.

Detroit won the Stanley Cup this season, defeating Montreal four games to three in the finals. But the Canadiens were without Maurice Richard, who was on the sidelines serving a suspension which had triggered the infamous Richard Riot on March 17, 1955.

The next season, Montreal would begin their run of five straight Stanley Cups.

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Good Wood

Ron Green in Orillia sends along an interesting story from TheStar.com – Hockey Is In Tom Scanlan’s Bones  – about a fellow who bought game-used sticks once owned by the 42 players who scored at least 500 goals in the NHL. The sticks were up for auction last June from Classic Auctions in Montreal.

42 is a lot of sticks, especially when you attach the importance of the players who handled them. I have two that belong in this category – Wayne Gretzky and Jean Beliveau. He has 40 more than me, including the Rocket’s, which has me oozing with envy. I’ve always wanted one of Rocket’s sticks.

There’s a few in the 42 I can do without, starting with Mark Recchi, but all in all, it’s a beautiful pile of timber and good for the guy for being the winning bidder.

For the record, here’s the 42 men who’ve scored at least 500 goals, in order of ranking:

Wayne Gretzky - 894
Gordie Howe – 801
Brett Hull – 741
Marcel Dionne – 731
Phil Esposito – 717
Mike Gartner – 708
Mark Messier – 694
Steve Yzerman – 692
Mario Lemieux – 690
Luc Robitaille – 668
Jaromir Jagr – 665
Teemu Selanne – 663
Brendan Shanahan – 656
Dave Andreychuk – 640
Joe Sakic – 625
Bobby Hull – 610
Dino Ciccarelli – 608
Jari Kurri – 601
Mark Recchi – 577
Mike Bossy – 573
Mats Sundin – 564
Mike Modano – 561
Guy Lafleur – 560
Joe Nieuwendyk – 559
Johnny Bucyk – 556
Ron Francis – 549
Michel Goulet – 548
Maurice Richard – 544
Stan Mikita – 541
Keith Tkachuk – 538
Frank Mahovlich – 533
Bryan Trottier – 524
Pat Verbeek – 522
Dale Hawerchuk – 518
Jarome Iginla – 516
Pierre Turgeon – 515
Jeremy Roenick – 513
Gilbert Perreault – 512
Jean Beliveau – 507
Peter Bondra – 503
Joe Mullen – 502
Lanny McDonald – 500

Gary Lupul

It was July 18, 2007 when Powell River’s Gary Lupul died of a heart attack at just 48 years old. I was shocked. He was a close friend of mine, and he seemed in good shape. It was a horrible time for many people, because Gary was loved by many.

There were those who didn’t love him quite as much as the rest of us though. Gary’s NHL career was cut short, mostly because he had a love for the good life, and there were some in town who felt he didn’t behave himself properly and blew a promising career. Gary heard these things, he felt bad that some felt that way, but que sera sera. He was simply an outgoing and fun-loving guy who was funny, great with kids, had no ego, and the ladies loved him, although some women in Powell River steered clear of him because of rumours of his struggles. That and I guess because he was often broke. It was their loss. He was an excellent fellow who looked like a stronger version of Hollywood actor Rob Lowe.

Below, Gary with the Canucks, fighting for the puck with Gordie Howe, and taking a faceoff against Marcel Dionne.

Guyle Was At Home In The Minors

Last year I was in contact with a fellow named Gyle Konotopetz, who at one time was a terrific and ultra-creative sports columnist with the Calgary Herald before moving to the states, and now, I think, is up in Victoria. Gyle had done a piece in the Herald about Danny Gallivan, and when I wrote about Danny later on, I mentioned Gyle’s article. Lo and behold, Gyle emailed me just to say hi, which was really nice, and which also blew me away considering how talented the guy is and how I had admired him when I lived in Calgary.

Gyle told me he was working on a book about a legendary minor-league player named Guyle Fielder, whom everyone thought should have been a star in the NHL, but for some reason, stayed in the minors. Why would someone shun the limelight? Why would someone not want to play in the NHL and be a huge star? I wondered for years, as many, I’m sure, have.

So who better to ask than Gyle Konotopetz.

“Detroit didn’t want to release Fielder but he asked for his release anyway. In his six games on Howe’s line, the line didn’t have a single point. They both needed the puck to be effective and didn’t click together. Fielder thought he’d have been better off on another line. The year he was there, he was being touted as a rookie of the year candidate (he’s had 122 points in the Western League the previous year).

“He was an all-round athlete, scratch golfer, and pool shark. In Seattle, he had a better salary, he made a lot of money playing pool, and he was able to golf the year round. A couple of years after going back to Seattle, Punch Imlach flew to Seattle to offer him a contract with the Leafs and he wouldn’t take it because he was enjoying his lifestyle in Seattle. A lot of Western Leaguers in those days refused contracts from the NHL.

“Fielder should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Some players would go on his line and double or triple their goal scoring. He lives down in Mesa. Guyle’s uncle, Al Fielder, was president of the Western Hockey League and although Guyle hasn’t said so, I think his uncle used his influence to keep him in the WHL where he was a big draw everywhere.”

Guyle says his book is stalled at the moment, but if he ever gets it finished, be sure to check it out. This guy is a superstar journalist, and Guyle Fielder is a fascinating subject for sure.

And if you want to know more about Guyle Fielder while we wait for Gyle’s book, a couple of nice pieces can be found here at Greatest Hockey Legends and also Sportspress Northwest.