Man… 2016 has been a sad year for iconic figures.
In music, we’ve lost David Bowie, Prince, and country legend Merle Haggard.
In sports, one week ago today, we lost arguably the greatest boxer of all-time, the incomparable Muhammad Ali.
And, just this morning, we received the sad news that one of the greatest hockey players the game has ever seen, Saskatchewan’s own, Gordie Howe, has died at the age of 88.
There was no one quite like “Mr. Hockey.”
He had a wicked shot and a soft set of hands, that saw him rack up 1850 points in the NHL – a number surpassed only by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and, most recently, by Jaromir Jagr.
But, for all his scoring prowess, he was one of the toughest players the NHL has ever seen. Many players made the mistake of getting too close to Gordie’s elbows. It was not a mistake they made again.
When a player gets a “Gordie Howe Hat trick,” it means that over the course of a game, he’s scored a goal, assisted on another, and gotten into a fight. Ironically, it’s a feat Gordie himself only managed to pull off twice in his 32-year professional career.
In addition to his point totals, (which, when you include his totals from his years in the World Hockey Association, leaves him with 2358 points and 975 goals), he was a six-time scoring champ, six-time MVP, a four-time Stanley Cup champion, and he won the Avco Cup twice with the Houston Aeros – a feat made more memorable, as he got to share the experience with his sons, Mark and Marty.
But the numbers only tell part of the story. Gordie was always about more than hockey.
Above hockey, the love of his life was his wife, Colleen, and they were nearly inseparable, marrying in 1953, and staying by each other’s sides, until Colleen’s passing in 2009. She was more than just Gordie’s wife, handling his business affairs, as well, and becoming a trailblazer in her own right, as a hard-nosed negotiator, who wouldn’t let her family be taken advantage of.
The great thing about Gordie Howe, was that it was like he was two different people: on the ice, no one was a more fierce, fiery (and dangerous) competitor, than #9. But off the ice, by all accounts, he was a gentle, modest, unassuming gentleman, who always treated people well, and had time for one last photo, or autograph, or handshake. I like to think that his humility comes from growing up in Saskatchewan, and the down-to-earth atmosphere that comes with living in the Prairies.
As the generations go by, many of us have different recollections of “Mr. Hockey.” Our parent and grandparents remember seeing Gordie in his heyday, creating history on the ice with the Red Wings.
For my generation, we never got to see him play, except, perhaps, in his last couple of seasons before he retired for good. Fortunately, the magic of film allows us to see Gordie and his generation work their magic on the ice, creating memories and setting the standard for the hockey heroes to come…
And, for the younger generation, they may recognize him from my favourite TV show of all-time, in which Gordie made a surprise cameo appearance…
Yes, you know you’ve truly made it, when you’re immortalized on “The Simpsons,” when Bart used a photo of Gordie Howe, to be the face of “Woodrow,” the fictional boyfriend he created, to play a prank on his teacher, Mrs. Krabapple!
We all know Gordie Howe, and “Mr. Hockey” made his mark on our province, our nation, the great game of hockey, and even pop culture! He was a great ambassador for hockey, and an example of celebrity done right. If there was a rulebook on how to be famous, hopefully Gordie had a big part in writing it, because he mastered it. He rose from poverty, became a legend, and didn’t let it change him one bit. That’s a great lesson for us all.
There’ll never be another Gordie Howe. Rest in Peace, “Mr. Hockey.”