Gordie Howe got rousing get-wells from all around the league after word started to circulate last week that he’d suffered a “serious” stroke. He was recovering — improving, the family said — at his daughter’s home in Texas.
“One of the game’s true legends,” Matt Larkin from The Hockey News called him, taking note of the “outpour of nostalgia and people sharing their favorite memories of him, from his dominant play as the original power forward to the way he always took time for others and never minded being adored, as he understood what it felt like to be on the other end.”
With the man himself looking on via iPad, the Detroit Red Wings paid tribute to 86-year-old Mr. Hockey ahead of their Friday-night home game against Los Angeles.
Slava Malamud from Sport Express told Pavel Datsyuk that Howe was always a big fan of his. Datsyuk: “Don’t say was. Hope he still is. Hope I’ll see him in the room again real soon.”
Among the many odes sung as the week went by were several to Howe’s hands. The Leafs’ Cody Franson shook one of them about ten years ago. “He’s just got those worker hands. That leather skin. Those very big fingers.” Allan Muir from Sports Illustrated cited “a hearty clasp from a hand the size of a canned ham, accompanied by a smile.” Another Leaf, Stephane Robidas recalled meeting Howe in 2009: “It was a real handshake. Huge hands. Even at 81, I wasn’t going to mess with him.”
Former NHL referee Paul Stewart said, yes, he was Babe Ruth of hockey but also? “He is an even better man off the ice as a true family man.”
Back to the rink, though:
In terms of his play on the ice, even apart from his nearly superhuman longevity, Gordie was the prototype for playing a hard-nosed physical game that also incorporated a tremendous level of skill. As genuinely nice and laid back as he is off-the-ice, that’s how mean and competitive he was as a player.
Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press talked to a goaltending great, Grant Fuhr, who has an autobiography out in which he talks about, among other things, the drugs he used to take when he was playing for the Edmonton Oilers.
Looking back on it, Fuhr doesn’t believe drugs hurt his performance.
“The hardest part of goaltending is to stay focused,” Fuhr said. “So the fact that you get a mental break away from the game is almost refreshing.”
Montreal went to Edmonton and lost 3-0. Canadiens’ fan Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea saw what they were doing there:
Showing the discipline of Champs, Habs resist the urge to score any goals at all against Oilers. Opponents seriously confused. Brilliant.
The Toronto Maple Leafs ailed. Were ailing. Okay, losing. Writer Stephen Marche wondered whether this is the worst Leaf team ever. “Emotionally this team feels like the most dispiriting,” he keened.
At home, it’s true, the team had been having a tough time. Drubbed by Boston, their record at the Air Canada Centre ticked over to a grim 1-4-0. Why couldn’t they win? Coach Randy Carlyle told The Canadian Press what he knew.
To me, it’s mental and that’s the operative word that I used in my speaking to (the players). The issues we have (are) about being strong between the ears. I think the passion, compete, the relentlessness, the desire — all those are things that have to come on display, night in, night out. When you get away from playing with any kind of structure, you start circling and not stopping and doing that, it just multiplies.”
Next up, Buffalo, the worst team in the NHL. That had to be cause for relief, no? On Twitter, Ex-Sabre Matthew Barnaby feared the worst: “Carlyle has to be on thin ice. If they lose to Sabres it could be a sleepless night.”
Adding: “Having said that I don’t see Leafs losing tonight.”
They didn’t. He saw them winning, 4-0. Buffalo found it hard to muster shots on goal. “I’m not even sure the Sabres can spell Corsi right now,” James Mirtle from The Globe and Mail tweeted as he watched.
He was on hand after the game to listen to the Buffalo coach, Ted Nolan: “Sometimes if your feet ain’t moving,” he said, “at least your brain should be thinking a little bit, and tonight we did neither.”
Mike Winters (@Mike_Wntrz) watched the Oilers’ captain in the game against Vancouver: “Andrew Ference is the opposite of defence. He’s like a busted gumball machine of loose pucks.”
From Tampa Bay came word that the netting on the Lightning’s nets is hand-strung, a job that takes four or five hours per.
While Sportsnet.ca play-by-play man Dave Randorf wondered whether maybe someone in Nashville might write a country song about Shea Weber’s shot, his employer ran a precautionary video on THE FREAKISH POWER OF WEBER’S SLAPSHOT:
Shea Weber possessed a power unlike any other in the NHL. The Predators’ defenceman’s slapshot has broken legs, gone through boards and nets, and strikes fear into defenders and goalies alike.
Over at TSN.ca, Darren Dreger mentioned that an unnamed executive from an Eastern Conference team told him that he thinks that one day Nathan MacKinnon will be better than Sidney Crosby.
Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks travelled to Ottawa to play the Senators. The U.S. ambassador was excited: accompanied by his wife, Vicki Heyman, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, he attended his first NHL game since arriving in Canada. Tweeting throughout, @BruceAHeyman took note:
Our hockey teams are like our trading relationship: intertwined! 12 Canadians on @NHLBlackhawks, 4 Americans on @Senators. #siblingrivalry
The game went to overtime, where Marian Hossa scored. Chicago won, Ottawa lost. It was a big deal, as Twitter noted in the moments after puck found twine:
Marian Hossa just became the 80th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career points. Congrats, Hoss!
1,000 points for Marian Hossa. Two Cups, will have 500 goals by end of career. Walks like a Hall of Famer, quacks like a Hall of Famer…
Marian Hossa’s 2nd point in #CHIvsOTT was 1000th of his NHL career; he joins Jagr, Thornton & Iginla as only active players to hit the mark.
[Patrick] Sharp to media on Hossa nearly having game-winner: “It seemed like it was storybook, like one of you guys drew up the playbook.”
“It’s such a privilege to be one of these 80 great players to do this milestone,” Hossa himself said, “and it doesn’t get better than this doing it where I started. It means a lot to me. A big thanks goes to all the players tonight who helped me to achieve that and also all the players through my career.
Montreal goaltender Carey Price vouched for new Habs’ defenceman Tom Gilbert: “We sit together on the airplane, I’ve got to know him pretty well. He’s a great guy and he’s a really solid defenceman.”
The Boston Bruins extended the contract of their coach, Claude Julien. GM Peter Chiarelli said he was one of the NHL’s top coaches and that what Julien had done consistently was show his passion through his coaching. His passion for winning — which, in hockey, is obviously one of the best passions there is.
Chiarelli went on, spilling his coach’s secrets:
Coaching is a difficult profession at the best of times and what Claude does in implementing structure in his systems and having a solid defensive foundation while allowing freedom in offensive play is no easy task. During his time with the Bruins, he has excelled in maintaining this difficult balance, and his longevity here speaks volumes. He has coached the Bruins to a Stanley Cup and a Cup Final appearance and our goal to win with him at the helm remains the same as we move forward.
Dallas coach Lindy Ruff lamented after 2-1 OT loss to Anaheim: “We were below flat if you asked me. It was pretty disappointing.”
For all Buffalo’s losing, the Sabres did beat San Jose this last week, a game Jeremy Roenick joined in progress: