Tag Archives: Gordie Howe

Card Abuse

We were sitting on a gold mine and just didn’t know it. Nobody knew it, not even the card makers.

beliveau cardWhenever we got a chance outside school, we’d throw Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe and Mickey Mantle cards against the school’s brick walls to see who would come the closest. All those helmet-less, legendary, magical names of yesterday, bang against the wall.

Winner takes all. Awesome!

In fact, we ruined pretty well every card we owned, because we’d also bend them and put them in our bicycle spokes and wrap tight elastics around them and pick food from our teeth with them.

In Orillia we’d buy our cards at a little kiosk at the corner where the two main streets meet, a place run by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and the man who worked there couldn’t see a thing. I always wondered how he did it – taking money, making change, reaching for the right thing stacked among so many other things.

We could’ve taken anything within reach at that little store and that man would never know, but we didn’t. We were there to spend five cents a pack on cards and try to get our sets completed. And we’d usually get them all, or lose most of them by doing like I said; firing them against hard walls to see who got the closest.

These cards would be worth plenty now. Rookie cards of every name you’ve ever heard of from the NHL and MLB of the 1950s got dinged and bent and mud splattered on them. We loved our cards, but I guess you always hurt the one you love.

I remember when I was about eight years old and I needed only one card to complete my Montreal-Toronto set, and on a winter evening my dad came home from work with about fifty packs for me so I could finally find that one missing card.

I imagine what those fifty packs of unopened 1958 cards would be worth now and my eyes widen.

Of course, my mother and all my friends’ mothers eventually did their spring cleaning and threw our cards out. It’s what mothers did. They fed us, taught us, and threw our cards out. They were born to throw their son’s cards out.

We were just goofy kids throwing cards against walls until girls got interesting, and anyway, we were of a different mindset. For us, keeping Jacques Plante and Tim Horton mint, or even keeping them at all, didn’t really matter. It was the game that counted.

Getting rich just wasn’t in the cards.

Phoning Terry Harper

Unlike the time Bert Olmstead hung up on me, Terry Harper, the lanky, stay-at-home defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens from 1963 to 1971, was more than happy to chat, which happened almost a decade ago.

He’s was a nice, friendly fellow (I’m sure he still is) who at the time of the call was living in northern California with his wife Gladys (the two have been together since high school in Regina). We talked about days gone by and even hockey today, and he even showed interest in my life, asking about places I’ve lived and live now. And he felt bad for me when I told him Sam Pollock turned me down when I asked to be stickboy way back then. “I understand Sam’s reasoning,” he laughed. “Imagine how something like that could get out of control?”

“You caught me at a good time,” he said. And he added, “If someone is still interested in what I have to say after 40 years, then I’m completely fine with it.”

Gordie Howe was the best he’s ever seen, he says. “Howe just dominated the game in every aspect, and he did so for so long. He did everything right.” But what about Bobby Orr? I asked. “Orr was fantastic but he didn’t play long enough,” he explained. “He played a transition game with his skating, which was fantastic, but for me he wasn’t even the best defenceman. Doug Harvey is the best ever. For pure defence, it’s Harvey. No one’s been better.”

Jean Beliveau? “He’s a good friend, a super person. He’s one of those who stayed with the team even today, and is a wonderful man and great for hockey.”

Toe Blake? “I really liked and admired Toe. A really thoughtful man, a deep-thinker. And I think the best coach ever.”

Sam Pollock? “Sam liked me. I was his captain for the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens and we got along well. He was a great hockey mind.”

And the game today compared to then? “Players are certainly bigger now. When I played, Jacques Laperriere, Ted Harris and myself were considered huge because players back then weren’t overly big like most are now. Even my first defence partner, Jean-Guy Talbot wasn’t big. We were a new breed.”

“Guys now don’t have harder shots than many back then. A puck can only go so fast. Bobby Hull could get up to about 105 mph, and I don’t think there’s too many who can shoot harder than that. I also don’t think players are faster now either. It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone quicker than Ralph Backstrom or Dave Keon, for example. And don’t forget, equipment now must be 15 pounds lighter at least. Same with the goalies. More pads and lighter overall.”

“Because it was only a six-team league, everyone knew everyone completely. There were no surprises. It was so tight-checking, teams weren’t allowed to make a mistake or a goal would be scored. It was more like a chess match back then. And I think players now probably have the wrong attitude. It’s mostly just about money but where would they be without the fans? It’s the fans who make them. Like you. There’s seems to be no interaction anymore between fans and players.”

Do you still have any of your old Habs sweaters, Terry? “We weren’t allowed to keep those,” he said. “The trainers were strict about that. We always had to hand them in.” (He was surprised when I told him his old number 19 would fetch several thousand at auction now.)

And one last thing. Does he follow the Habs at all now. “I don’t know the team, but I look at the standings in the paper. We don’t get a lot of hockey news here, especially about the Canadiens. We go down to San Jose from time to time to see the Sharks, and we used to make a point of going when Montreal was in town, but the way it is now, there’s years when they don’t even come. So we just go, usually around February when it’s getting important, and it could be any team visiting.”

After Harper’s days in Montreal came to an end, he joined the LA Kings and also did stints in Detroit, St. Louis, and the Colorado Rockies before calling it quits in 1981. He played a total of 19 seasons in the NHL, which is a big-time career, and at the time of this phone call, was a 69-year old, stay-at-home defenceman in his local beer league.

Terry is 77 now.

Terry, winning another of his five Stanley Cups in Montreal
Terry, winning another of his five Stanley Cups in Montreal
Harper and Jacques Laperriere take to the ice for a scrimmage at the Forum.
Harper and Jacques Laperriere take to the ice for a scrimmage at the Forum.

Hockey’s Golden Age Is When?

Isn’t it funny that no matter what decade we’re in, many retired players and older fans always insist that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, when they played or watched.

It’s only natural that they feel this way. The present game, of any decade, just doesn’t have the romance it did for them. And hockey always changes, whether it’s the way players shoot, or pass, or even their size.

Ken Dryden, when asked when he thought the golden age of hockey was, answered that it’s whenever we were young.  It is for me. The 1950s and 1960s were my golden hockey years. They were magical years, with road hockey, collecting cards, digging pucks out of snowbanks, outdoor rinks and frozen toes,  and a six-team NHL. And I had the Rocket, Beliveau, Howe, Hull, Plante, and Sawchuk to watch.

But for men who played in the 1930s and ’40s, those 1950s and ’60s years sucked. And for those who played in the 1910s and ’20s, the next few decades after them simply didn’t cut it.

It’ll always be like this. Ken Dryden was right. It all depends on when you were born.

Here’s some examples.

Cyclone Taylor, one of hockey earliest stars, talking about the game in 1968:

“I don’t think I’d like to play the game now. I was used to going on at the start of the game and playing to the finish. I think any man between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t play 60 minutes of hockey – well, he just doesn’t want to play, that’s all.”

Newsy Lalonde, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, talking hockey in 1970.

“Never did I use the slapshot the way you see it used in the NHL now, with the curved sticks and all. With us there was no other shot to use but the wrist shot. When a man makes a slapshot today it’s more powerful than a wrist shot, but you can’t place it in the same way. The modern player just shoots the puck in the general direction of the net and that’s it. We knew where the puck was going and didn’t have to look twice.

And if you think hockey is a tough game nowadays, you have no idea what toughness is all about.”

Bill Durnan, star goalie for the Habs from 1943 to 1950, talking about the NHL in 1969.

“It’s a changed game, no doubt about it. Now it’s congested and half the time you don’t know how the puck went into the net. Thy just don’t have the plays we had; they simply shove the puck in the corner, then there’s a wild scramble, with three or four guys behind the bloody net. The puck comes out and somebody bangs it in. At that point, even the announcers who are supposed to know what happened start guessing.

And the players have changed, especially their attitudes, though at least until recently there were a few honest skaters left. John Ferguson, who played for the Canadiens, is an example. I was at a party with him a few years ago and somebody asked him why he was such a stinker on the ice and a nice guy off it. Ferguson replied. “When I’m on the ice, I’m at work!”

Now that’s the kind of answer we oldtimers would give.”

Cooper Smeaton, NHL referee before and after World War 1, interviewed in the 1970’s.

“Those were the golden days of hockey when you had fellows like Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, and Georges Vezina. They talk about Bobby Hull’s speed, but Morenz would whip around his net like a flash and be up the ice before you could blink your eyes.

Take a goal scorer like Stewart. In today’s game he’d score 100 goals. And in the old days if a team was a man short it would stickhandle the puck until time expired. Now they just heave it down the ice. You don’t have to pay a guy $400,000 to do that.

We had a more appealing game game with lots of stickhandling and nice passing. Now it’s all speed. But one thing remains the same though – the referees never seem to please the coaches or managers or owners. To this day, nobody is perfect.”

R.I.P. Gordie

Howe and Rocket

When I was a kid in the schoolyard, the conversation with my buddies would go something like this:

Rocket’s better.
Nope, Howe’s better.
No way. Rocket’s better.
Howe’s better.
Take off, hoser.
No you take off.
Shut up and your mother wears army boots. (Or words to that effect).

That’s what it was. Always the same thing. Rocket and Howe. Two completely different players, but Howe was the enemy and Rocket was my hero, so I won. And I’ve  known now for years that Howe was the better all-round player, but I didn’t then and I wouldn’t have admitted it even if I did.

In the 1990s I had breakfast with the legendary goalie Glenn Hall, who was in Powell River for the Allan Cup. Glenn was a teammate of Gordie’s in the 1950s with Detroit, and played against him while with Chicago and St. Louis.

Glenn had also faced the Rocket and Orr during his Hall of Fame career, and because he lived near Edmonton and still involved in hockey in various ways, was as familiar with Wayne Gretzky as practically anyone.

I asked who he thought was the greatest ever and he didn’t hesitate. Howe, he answered, because he could do it all, and the others couldn’t.

I didn’t tell Glenn his mother wore army boots.

But Howe could do it all. His wrist shot was something to behold, his passes pinpoint, his deft scoring touch like few others, his unequaled on-ice intelligence, the unparalleled respect he rightfully earned from other players.

And tough? You want tough?

My friend and former co-worker Gilles Gratton was a backup goalie during the 1974 WHA Canada-Russia Summit Series, and he told me about the time Gordie’s son Mark was leveled by a Soviet defenceman in dastardly fashion, so much so that an unsteady Mark initially skated to the wrong bench and had to be steered to the right one by Soviet players.

Not long after, Gordie just happened to skate by the player who nailed Mark, and the guy just happened to end up with a broken arm and was gone for the series.

You didn’t mess with Gordie or his kin.

Players in the NHL, WHA, or Russia didn’t go in the corners with Gordie. They timidly poked their sticks at the puck and then got the hell out of there before one of those famous elbows crushed their faces.

He did it all, legally or not. There was absolutely no one like him.

Several years ago Howe came to Powell River for an autograph signing and the prices charged for his signature were incredibly outlandish. Way higher than normal, maybe because Powell River is fairly isolated.

I was astonished at these abnormal prices and I wrote a column about it for the local newspaper in which I wasn’t very nice, coming down hard on him and the grocery store where the signing was held.

I regret that I did that. Extraordinary prices or not (and they were), this was a fine and friendly fellow, a legendary man, possibly the greatest hockey player to ever play the game,  and he was there trying to make a buck. What an asshole I can be sometimes.

Now he’s gone and it’s a sad day for me and you and millions of others. I can almost hear angels in heaven’s schoolyard: “Rocket’s better”. “No, Howe’s better.” “Take off, hoser”.

Gordie & Rocket

Orr Town

I dislike the Boston Bruins as much as anyone. Can’t stand them. Hate the uniform. When I see someone on the street wearing a Bruins sweater or jacket I say to myself, yep, there’s the friggin’ enemy.

I’m a Habs fan, so these are natural feelings. I have no control over this.

But disliking the Bruins has never stopped me from feeling that Bobby Orr is the greatest to ever lace ’em up. Better than Gretzky. Better than Howe and Lemieux and Beliveau. And yes, better than my lifelong idol, the Rocket.

Any of this can be debated. I just don’t have the energy.

Orr was magnificent, the Norris Trophy was his for eight straight seasons, but his career lasted just nine full seasons because of those wretched knees. It’s one of the hockey’s true tragedies.

Below, some photos I took in Orr’s hometown Parry Sound while driving from Powell River to Montreal to start my job at Classic Auctions back in 2013. Parry Sound is about 60 miles northwest of Orillia, where I grew up.

Below:

-A sign on the highway, of course.
-The house Orr grew up in. The Seguin River, where he honed his skills, is just across the street.
-The name of his street, Great North Rd. (He lived just three houses around the corner from the main drag).
-Orr’s Deli, owned by his dad’s brother. A couple of his nieces work there.
-A big wooden sign in the deli. Too bad about the uniform.
-And outside the Orr Hall of Fame, which was closed.

Orr sign

Orr's house

Orr street

deli

Inside deli

Orr hall of fame

Moves Like The Missile

003

I don’t remember that two goals, one assist game. I can only assume what happened.

Dozens of fans, some even whoopin’ and hollerin’. We were probably down by a goal with just under a minute to go, and I had decided that enough was enough.

I’m thinking that I took the puck behind our goal, did a fancy little how do you do past the first forechecker, outskated the second guy like he’d just seen a ghost, did a slick loop de loop around the next guy, split the defence like nobody’s business, and after freezing the goalie with my patented Harlem shuffle, found the top corner to tie the game.

Then I guess I did it again.

I seem to recall that these were moves only The Missile in Montreal and Gordie Whye in Detroit could come close to, and of course what players in Toronto could only dream of doing.

Afterwards, I can sort of recall quite a few gorgeous female models waiting for me in the lobby, but being a shy and dedicated hockey player, I probably just went home and worked on my stick instead.

 

 

 

Signing Bonus

What a nice group of important signatures on this sheet that I managed to get my grubby hands on recently, had them authenticated, and now are mine.

A page consisting of:

Danny

The one and only Danny Gallivan. (Until now I’d never seen a Danny Gallivan autograph although there must be some floating around considering he did a lot of banquets and charity events, especially in the Maritimes.

Balon
Dave Balon, who passed away in 2007 after a 30-year battle with MS.

Bentley
Max Bentley, The “Dipsy Doodle Dandy from Delisle”, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966.

GordieVic Howe
Gordie Howe and his brother Vic. Vic played 33 games with the New York Rangers in the early-1950s.

Fergie
John Ferguson, who needs no introduction.

Campbell
Clarence Campbell, former league prez, inducted into the HOF in 1966.

Hicke
Bill Hicke, former Hab who died of cancer in 2005.

Garry Peters
Garry Peters, a Canadien for 17 games in the mid-1960s.

Plus these cool dudes –

John Bucyk – inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981
Pierre Pilote – inducted 1975
Johnny Bower – inducted 1976
Alex Delvecchio – inducted 1977

And two great defencemen-
Jim Neilson
Doug Barkley

004

Cream Of The Crop

003

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