Old Bootnose: Sid Abel thought he had another year in him at the end of the 1951-52 NHL season, his GM Jack Adams, wasn’t so sure. The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the spring of ‘’52 to win the Stanley Cup, and Abel, 34, was the captain leading them, their frontline centre, and the highest-scoring player in team history. He hadn’t signed a new contract, though. He had bought a cocktail lounge in Detroit, and there was talk that he was thinking of starting a new career there. Instead, he signed on with the Chicago Blacks as playing coach. Five years later, he was back in Detroit coaching his old linemate and fellow Saskatchewanian Gordie Howe. Abel stayed on for 12 seasons (Howe, still playing, lasted a season longer). Above, that’s the coach in one of his natural habitats at the Detroit Olympia in January of 1961.
(Photo: Weekend Magazine / Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002505699)
“There will never be another Gordie Howe,” is what Bobby Orr was saying last week, in the days following Howe’s death on June 10 at the age of 88.
“You couldn’t invent Gordie today,” Orr told Dave Stubbs from NHL.com. “If he was playing with today’s rules he might not be able to do anything at first. But he would adapt to the rules and guys wouldn’t take liberties with him. The way he played, he’d do real well.”
“He was everything to me,” Wayne Gretzky told NHL.com.
Adam Gopnik wrote a Howe tribute for The New Yorker. “Perhaps only Mark Messier, among players bright in our contemporary memory, combined the same qualities of grit, skill, desire, and accuracy,” he mused. “As Gretzky lived on the edge of his skates, Howe lived in his wrists: the accuracy, power, and quickness of his shot are the first things those who saw him up close, in his prime, often reference (after they reference the elbows that rose above those wrists).”
“My best Christmas ever, I was five years old and my dad — I mean Santa Claus — bought me a Gordie Howe sweater, which I wore for the whole year.” That’s Gretzky again, back in 1994. The same article, from Reuters, goes on to say that when young Wayne pleaded with his father, “a barber,” to cut his hair Gordiewise, Walter Gretzky had to explain that Wayne had too much hair and Gordie too little.
“His elbows were the best,” Joe Peacock wrote in 1997.
Gretzky, last week, helped to clarify that old Reuters story: “I was seven or eight years old and I’d go to the barber shop … and I’d say, ‘I want a Gordie Howe haircut.’ I was enamored by him at a young age.”
Eddie McCabe, writing in The Ottawa Citizen, circa 1979, said this: “Gordie is such a decent man, he makes up for the yahoos and the boors.”
Frank Selke said there was no-one better. “Gordie Howe is the greatest all-round hockey player I’ve ever seen,” he opined in 1961 when Selke was managing director of the Montreal Canadiens. “He’s a composite of some mighty fine players through the years, and I’ve been watching them all, amateur and professional, since the 1910s around my old hometown, Kitchener. I’ve never known any player combining so many faculties. He’s the greatest of them all.”
Gordie’s dad didn’t necessarily agree. Gordie wrote about this in his “authorized autobiography,” and … Howe! (1995):
According to my Dad, Vic was always the better player, better than me. He was so funny. And Vern, my oldest brother, was the best of us all, so Dad said. It wasn’t until Dad was old, on his death bed, that he finally gave me more credit. He was kidding me, and said, “Aw, I saw a few gams on television. I guess you were better than your brothers.”
“In street clothes, he looks quite slim, an impression heightened by his long arms, rather long neck and narrow face.” This is Peter Gzowski, from a famous Maclean’s profile of Howe from 1963. “His most outstanding physical characteristic is the slope of his shoulders; his trapezius muscles — the muscle you feel if you stretch your arm out to one side — rise into his neck at an angle not far from 45 degrees, while his deltoids, at the top of the arm, look scarcely better developed than the average dentist’s. The enormous strength he displays in hockey flows from him, rather than exploding, and the easy grace with which he moves on the ice, and which has given so many hockey fans pleasure over the years, is also evident in his loose, almost lazy walk.”
“He’s always at the outer edge of the rulebook,” Eric Nesterenko told Gzowski. “You never know when he’s going to slip over into what’s dirty.”
Howe’s longtime linemate concurred. “Gordie gets away with more than anyone else in hockey,” said Ted Lindsay. Andy Bathgate of the New York Ranger indicted Howe for “deliberately inflicting head cuts, of deliberately cauliflowering at least one ear, and of deliberately raising the puck at other people’s heads.” He did not spear, Bathgate said, nor butt-end. Gzowski: “He is a recognized master of ‘high sticking,’ an action that is almost impossible for the fans or even the referees to separate from an accident, and which has carved his signature on a good many faces around the league.”
Gary Ross wrote about Howe in 1978, the year Number 9 turned 50 playing for the New England Whalers, “If Gordie Howe were a building, he’d be sandblasted and declared an historic site. If he were a forest, he’d be made a national park. In an age of $100,000 flakes he’s the real thing. A hero, a wonder, a natural phenomenon.”
When a 45-year-old Howe came out of retirement in 1973 to play with sons Mark and Marty for the WHA’s Houston Aeros, Dr. Bob Bailey was the Michigan physician who told him to go for it. “I think if you looked at men who do comparable work, like farmers, you’d find similar musculature,” Dr. Bailey said. “It’s a matter of conditioning. What I found really incredible was his pulse rate, which was around 48. That’s almost the heart of a dolphin. A normal 50-year-old man might have one around 80.”
Herbert Warren Wind was first to profile Howe for the pages of Sports Illustrated. “When he appears to be noodling with the puck in the offensive zone,” he wrote in 1955, “doing nothing, he is actually plotting whether to sweep in from the right or cut to the left, preparing to shift his stick according to his move, for, like no other player in the history of hockey, he is truly ambidextrous and is always shooting at you with a forehand shot. Also invisible is Howe’s great relaxed strength which manifests itself principally in wrists as large as the average athlete’s forearm.”
Mark Howe, in his 2013 memoir Gordie Howe’s Son: A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow of Mr. Hockey: “He always regretted dropping out of school and felt that somebody from the hockey club should have stopped him. I think that’s why he took up crossword puzzles — a big-time passion of his — to improve his vocabulary.”
“His success is due in part to the fact that he has the ‘perfect body for hockey,’” Larry Bortstein was able to disclose in 1970. “His shoulders slope so sharply into his huge biceps, which flare out into huge forearms, wrists, and hands. His legs are very strong. ‘I conserve them by sitting down at places where I don’t have to stand,’ he says.”
“When Howe is on the ice,” Mark Kram wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1964, “Detroit’s Olympia Stadium hums like an overloaded electric cable.”
King Clancy was the one who suggested someone ought to bottle the man’s sweat: “It would make a great liniment for hockey players.” Continue reading
Ace Bailey’s career as a fleet Toronto Maple Leafs’ winger came to a stop on the night of December 13, 1933, when Boston’s Eddie Shore knocked him to the ice, which his head hit with a sickening sound. Bailey, 30, wasn’t expected to live that night. He did recover, but never played hockey again.
Pre-Bailey, NHL players seldom wore helmets. They started to think differently, some of them, in the aftermath. A week after the accident, Harold C. Burr of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle polled members of the New York Americans and Detroit Red Wings to get their thoughts on covering their heads. Their answers:
Red Dutton (New York Americans, defence)
I wouldn’t wear one of the things for anybody. If I had one of those contraptions on my head I couldn’t see a forward heaving at me. There has only been one previous accident like Bailey’s. The modern hockey player won’t be able to move if you load him down with any more dead weight.
Cooney Weiland (Detroit Red Wings, centre)
All depends on the individual player. It’s a new suggestion and might work out fine.
Rabbit McVeigh (New York Americans, right wing)
I’d be all for a jockey cap lined with rubber.
Johnny Sorrell (Detroit Red Wings, left wing)
I imagine nothing could be done to prevent the sweat running down in to the eyes. And that would make you tire more quickly.
Normie Himes (New York Americans, centre)
Helmets wouldn’t be popular with the players. The agitation was started once before in Canada.
Roy Worters (New York Americans, goal)
It’s a good idea — if you could design some kind of light fibre cap. I wouldn’t want to be seen dead in front of my nets in one myself. But then goalies would have more need of a baseball mask.
Joe Simpson (New York Americans, coach)
What happened to poor Ace wouldn’t happen again in ten years. I don’t believe that you could get any of the fellows to wear ’em.
John Ross Roach (Detroit Red Wings, goal)
It would be a protector against any repetition of the Boston tragedy. The goalie could wear it easier than anybody else on the ice. It wouldn’t feel so hot on his head.
Bill Brydge (New York Americans, defence)
It’s a good idea, if the helmet wasn’t too heavy. Of course, a football headgear would be out. I wear a cap now to lessen the shock of the blows. I was hit in the eye in practice this fall, and that’s why I’m sporting a longer peak to my cap, if you’re noticed.
Hap Emms (Detroit Red Wings, left wing)
No good. Hockey players lose nearly all their teeth as it is. This way, it wouldn’t be a month before all their hair started falling out, too.
The bad news: the Detroit Red Wings lost to Montreal’s powerful Canadiens in the sixth game of the 1954 Stanley Cup Finals. A better bulletin: they were headed home for the seventh and deciding game that April. The team got in on the train on Wednesday afternoon, where family, friends, and fans were waiting to greet them. That’s Ted Lindsay here, on the left, with his wife Joanne; on the right is Marty Pavelich, with his fiancée, Jackie Eberling. The hockey players didn’t linger long: coach Tommy Ivan whisked them off to Toledo, Ohio, to prepare themselves in seclusion for Friday’s finale. Good move, I guess. Back in town at the Olympia, the Red Wings won the game, 2-1, on Tony Leswick’s overtime goal.
By Gads: News today that Hall-of-Fame defenceman Bill Gadsby has died at the age of 88. Born in Calgary, he finished his distinguished career with the Detroit Red Wings in 1966 after a 20-year NHL career that also included stints with Chicago and the New York Rangers. (The Red Wings pay tribute to his life and eventful times here.) Above, some time in the 1950s, Toronto hatter Sam Taft takes a measure of Gadsby’s brow. (Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4450)