Hockey legend Gordie Howe has died. He was 88 years old.
Howe played pro hockey longer than anyone else, and he remains “Mr. Hockey” to generations of fans.
Gordie Howe played hockey with an intensity he learned as a boy in Saskatoon during the Depression.
In his 2014 autobiography, Howe wrote about playing for his school team -- not on the right wing where generations of hockey fans were used to seeing him -- but as a goaltender.
Howe credited his time in the net for making him ambidextrous. The ability to shoot equally well from the left and the right made Gordie Howe one of the greatest scorers in the history of the National Hockey League.
By 1946, 18-year-old Gordie Howe was playing for the Detroit Red Wings.
During the next quarter century, Howe’s ability to score and his willingness to fight led to four Stanley Cup trophies, six National Hockey League scoring titles, and being named the league’s most valuable player a half a dozen times.
Gordie Howe also racked up more than 2,000 minutes in the penalty box.
In an interview for the Biography channel, Howe talked about how he used his physical strength to intimidate other players on the ice.
“If you learn to play a little rough and shape the rules a little bit sometimes you get a little more respect,” he said. “And respect gives you more room, and if you get a little more room to maneuver you can be a better hockey player.”
Watch part of the Biography piece below:
The hockey life did leave its scars.
Broken bones, hundreds of stitches, the game took a physical toll on Gordie Howe. By his own count, Howe’s nose was broken 14 times.
In the 1950 playoffs, he suffered a skull fracture that almost killed him.
Gordie Howe retired in 1971, and was elected to the hall of fame in 1972.
But by 1973, Gordie Howe was back on the ice.
An offer to play alongside his sons in the fledgling World Hockey Association lured Gordie Howe out of retirement.
And the legend held his own skating against men half his age.
Gordie Howe didn’t hang up his skates for good until 1980. He was 52 years old.
Howe still holds several NHL records, including most seasons played, most regular season games played, and most seasons with 20 or more goals.
He’s also the only man to play in the NHL in five different decades.
He even played in one minor league hockey game when he was 70.
In 1998, the Hockey News ranked Gordie Howe as the third best player in history, though many on that list say Gordie Howe was the best of all time.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon says Gordie Howe is the greatest sports icon in Michigan history.
“In hockey, he’s Babe Ruth,” Bacon said. “Yes, Babe Ruth’s records have been surpassed. So have Gordie Howe’s by Wayne Gretsky, in his case, but he was truly, and it’s trademarked ‘Mr. Hockey,’ and no one else in the state of Michigan can come close to that icon status.”
When he was asked why he played so long, Howe replied he never stopped loving the game.
Many years after he stopped playing, his fans never stopped loving him.