Whicker: Gordie Howe Terrified Opponents, Charmed Fans and Left Friends throughout Hockey

Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), June 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Whicker: Gordie Howe Terrified Opponents, Charmed Fans and Left Friends throughout Hockey


If you have an autograph from Gordie Howe, it won't pay for college. Millions of Canadians have one, too.

The good news that you don't have an authenticity problem. It is not scrawled. The "i" is dotted. You can read it.

Howe signed meticulously after every game. In the end when he couldn't write so well, he had cards printed. "We all knew how to write his name, too," said teammate Marty Pavelich.

Howe, who died at 88 on Friday, had an auxiliary name. He was Mr. Hockey because he encompassed the whole game and what it wants to represent. He had superb skill and unprecedented strength, a gentleman's manner and a hit man's cold-eyed inevitability. He also played major league hockey for 32 years and remains the second- leading goal scorer in NHL history. When he was 47 years old he scored 102 points for the WHA's Hartford Whalers. Inside, he was 17 every day.

"He was a big kid," said Garry Unger, who centered Howe's line in Detroit for a while. "He'd scoop up the snow from the ice at practice, with his stick, and shake it on top of some kid, or maybe a writer. Frank Mahovlich came to us from Toronto, where he was having trouble with management, and nobody was supposed to say a word. Gordie ran our locker room, so everybody had fun, and Frank became a different player."

In Jay Greenberg's superb book, "Gordie Howe's Son," Hall of Famer Mark Howe called his dad "the nastiest player I ever saw" and said he woul be permanently suspended today. He was the settler of scores, but he defined the scores, one of which could be an attempt to remove him from the puck, which was impossible anyway.

A "Gordie Howe hat trick" is part of the lingo. It means a goal, an assist and a fight. Except Howe only did it twice. "Nobody wanted to fight him," Pavelich said. "Ask Lou Fontinato."

Fontinato was the Rangers' top cop, and Howe put his picture in Life Magazine in 1959 by breaking his nose and dislocating his jaw. It was a three-minute fight, just like a boxing round.

"But that's the way it was," said Jim Pappin, a 14-year veteran with Chicago and Toronto and now a scout for the Ducks. "There were six teams and 105 players. If you backed down, you were gone."

And every team had a true high-quality goalie. Measure Howe's stats against that, and you understand why Wayne Gretzky and others consider him the best all-time player.

How feared was he? One night in the WHA, Minnesota brawler Billy Goldthorpe yelled some particuarly brutal insults at Howe, who glared at the bench so icily that Keith Christiansen, sitting next to Goldthorpe, turned pale and yelled, "That wasn't me, Gordie! …

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