great whale

Minus Nine: It was six years ago today that Gordie Howe died, on another Friday, in 2016: he was 88. Howe was in his last real season when this photo was taken, at the Montreal Forum, during Howe’s return to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers during the 1979-80 season. The man they called Mr. Hockey played 83 games that year, registering 16 goals and 43 points (along with 42 penalty minutes). He was 52 by the time it was over. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

aeros dynamic

Houston, We Have A Dynasty: Born in Floral, Saskatchewan, on a Saturday of this date in 1928, Gordie Howe was 45 in 1973 when he decided to become a Houston Aeros legend. He’d played a bit over the years with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, retiring in 1971 to take a job in the Red Wings’ front office. When that didn’t take, he went to the WHA to play win sons Marty (who was 20) and Mark (18). Howe Sr. finished the year with 31 goals and 100 points, good enough for third in league scoring. He led the Aeros to an Avco World Trophy championship that year, as well, and the Aeros repeated as champions in 1975. For good measure, Howe also collected the Gary L. Davidson Award as regular-season MVP in his first WHA season. Two years later, the WHA saw fit to re-name that same prize: in 1975-76, it became the Gordie Howe Trophy.

praising cain

Blurbing Herb: Herb Cain skated the left wing for Montreal’s Maroons and Canadiens in his day, but it was as a Boston Bruin that he made his mark on NHL history. In March of 1944, Cain collected two assists in a Boston win over the Chicago Black Hawks, giving him 75 points on the season, a new record for a single NHL season that surpassed Cooney Weiland’s 73 in 1929-30. Cain, who died on a Tuesday of this date in 1982 at the age of 69, went on win the NHL scoring title that year, finishing with 82 points, just ahead of Chicago’s Doug Bentley. It was 1951 before Gordie Howe broke Cain’s record. A member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams — Maroons in ’35; Bruins in ’41 — Cain remains the only eligible scoring champion in NHL history not to have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

winged wheeler dealer

Team-Building: Born in Melville, Saskatchewan, on a Friday of this date in 1918, Sid Abel went from Hall-of-Fame centreman with the Detroit Red Wings to coach of the team. In the spring of 1962, he added the title of GM to his portfolio when he succeeded Jack Adams. Abel was 44 that June as he took time (above) to survey his squad ahead of the NHL’s annual intra-league draft. The Red Wings had finished fifth in the six-team league that year, out of the playoffs, and Abel was promising a house-cleaning. “There’s one thing for sure,” he said, “we’ll find a spot for Howe on our protected list.” Abel’s former linemate was 34 that year, and did indeed stick with the Wings … for another nine seasons. (Howe played another seven after that, too, in Houston and Hartford.) And Abel’s refurbished team? They made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1963, where they lost in five games to Toronto.

prison break, 1954

Jailhouse Puck: Detroit coach Jack Adams shows off the championship latrine bucket with Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay at his side.

It was on a Tuesday of this same date in 1954 that the soon-to-be-Stanley-Cup- champion Detroit Red Wings played a famous afternoon exhibition game within the walls of Marquette State Prison on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Detroit lined up all their big guns, Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Alex Delvecchio; the green-sweatered Prison Pirates got their goaling from Bugsy Williams, a thief who’d been released from  solitary confinement for the occasion.

“They were scoring a goal a minute,” recalled Marquette’s athletic director, Oakie Brumm, “and could have done it quicker if I had pulled the puck out of the net faster. When it was 18-0 Wings at the end of the first period, the scorekeeper quit keeping score.” Far from the scoring, Sawchuk sat atop his net and once, when the puck did come his way, raced out to try his luck at on Bugsy Williams. He took a deliberate tripping penalty, too, so he could sign some autographs in the box. The second period saw the two teams mix their line-ups. For the third, the Red Wings played an intra-squad, showing off their skills to the enthusiastic crowd of inmates and guards.

Boxed: Detroit winger Johnny Wilson on the bench with goaltender Terry Sawchuk and a Marquette guard.

The game went into the books as a 5-2 Detroit win: at least, that’s the story the Associated Press flashed out to newspapers across North America. The prize was the fabled Doniker Trophy, which still resides in the Red Wings’ archive — a prison latrine bucket seconded to service to reward the visiting champions. The NHLers also received hand-tooled wallets to remember their visit, and they shared a meal with the Pirates.

The Red Wings played a second exhibition that night, on the ice at the local Marquette Palestra, against the Sentinels of the Northern Michigan League. They won that one 16-6.

Walls of Red Wing: The ice at Marquette State Prison, Michigan, as it looked in the 1950s.

 

box seats

Published 73 years ago today, the February 1, 1949 edition of Maclean’s magazine featured a couple of longstanding roughhouse rivals, Toronto winger Bill Ezinicki and Montreal’s Maurice Richard occupying the penalty bench at the Montreal Forum, as rendered by artist Franklin Arbuckle.

Richard was 27 that year and, as usual, in the thickest of things, scoring goals and, in the week before the magazine appeared, fighting Detroit’s Gordie Howe and Boston’s Fern Flaman.

But as the Globe and Mail reminded its readers later that week, Ezinicki, who led the NHL in penalty minutes, remained the Rocket’s “arch-enemy.” The main chatter as February got going was the — semi-serious? half-facetious? — offer the Leafs were said to be prepared to make to bring Richard to Toronto. Montreal’s management scoffed. “All the money in Toronto wouldn’t buy him,” said Canadiens GM Frank Selke. Coach Dick Irvin, a former Leaf himself: “It’s propaganda. All this is merely an attempt to upset my boys on the eve of a game.”

Maybe it worked. Thursday, February 3 was the date of the game in question, two days after Maclean’s hit the newsstands. In front of what Al Nickleson of the Globe described as “a violently partisan Forum gathering of 11,226,” Ezinicki and Richard duly engaged in the second period. Richard ran into Ezinicki, breaking his stick; Ezinicki loosed a “mild punch.” Nickleson:

Referee George Gravel blew his whistle to assess minors and both skated slowly toward the penalty box, talking quite earnestly, nose to nose.

Suddenly, Richard let go a right that caught Sweet William around the shoulders. Then they were into it, with [Leaf defenceman] Gus Mortson, never one to miss a battle, rushing to the fray, followed by other players. Combatants wrestled, tugged, and threw an odd punch as the main-bouters went into a wrestling hold. They were separated three times and at the end it looked as if the Rocket had earned a wrestling decision over Ezinicki, who took a couple to the chops, didn’t land any hard ones in return, although he tried mighty hard.

They went to off to serve the majors and minors that Gravel doled out. They were joined in detention by Mortson and Montreal defenceman Glen Harmon. Unlike the Maclean’s version, Canadiens and Leafs were separated in what was then still one big communal penalty box.

The Leafs won the game 4-1, on the strength of two goals by Max Bentley.

manhattan’s mauler

For our text this morning we turn to Hilary Stead’s 2002 book, Guelph: A People’s Heritage, and in particular its accounting of the life and times of Maria and Liberale, who emigrated to the seat of Wellington County in Southern Ontario from Treviso, in Northern Italy 60 years ago or so, arriving with a half-full suitcase as their only luggage. For 40 years Liberale worked at the International Malleable Iron Company in Guelph; he also tended a five-acre market garden on St. George’s Hill, with a milk-cow. Maria and Liberale were blessed with six children, five daughters and a son. His name was Lou, the son, and let it be known that in his boyhood he (Stead says) “played in the quarry behind the rubber plant” and burned “oil-soaked cotton batting pulled from around the bearings of the wheels of the trains at the roundhouse near Alice Street.”

Liberale, Maria, and Lou Fontinato

I don’t know just what that tells us about the manhood that followed for that young Guelpher: something, I’m certain. We do know, more solidly, that the kid in question, Louis Joseph Fontinato, was born on a Wednesday of this date in 1932. Also that as a hockey player, a defenceman, he played nine rough-hewn NHL seasons, mostly with the New York Rangers, also with the Montreal Canadiens, before a broken neck ended his hockey career in 1963.

Leapin’ Lou, they used to call him. He fought, a lot, taking on all comers, including Jean Béliveau, including (against everybody’s better judgment) Gordie Howe. How rambunctious was Lou Fontinato? In 1956, in pre-season practice, the bruising of his bodychecks put two of his Ranger teammates out of action for a couple of days, Dave Creighton and Red Sullivan.

More text: “If there were a prize for refrigerated misbehavior,” Arthur Daley wrote in the New York Times that same year, “it’s a cinch that Louie the Leaper would win it.”

Fontinato was the first NHLer, I think, to shred an opponent’s sweater with his skates, though not the last. 1957 this was, in December, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, against the Montreal Canadiens. There was a 15-minute brawl, in the second period. While Fontinato punched, and was punched by, Canadiens’ defenceman Tom Johnson, Montreal’s Jean-Guy Talbot wrestled New York’s Andy Hebenton.

There’s not much on the record that I’ve seen about the aftermath, though we do have one key witness. Talbot lost his sweater at some point in the ruckus. NHL Referee-in-Chief Carl Voss was on hand to watch what happened before the combatants were stowed away in the penalty box:

After the fighting had been stopped Fontinato spotted Talbot’s sweater still on the ice. He went over and made a big production of stomping on the Hab jersey with his skates. Then he went around breaking all the loose Montreal sticks he could find. What a showman that guy is. The New York fans loved it.

Fontinato’s sentence in the wake of all this 15 minutes, five for fighting plus a 10-minute misconduct. Carl Voss (as maybe you already guessed) saw no need for any supplementary discipline.

When the two teams met again in Montreal a few days later, New York coach Phil Watson fought a fan who kicked him outside the Rangers’ dressing room. Fontinato features in accounts of this game for his third-period heroics. When a Forum goal judge flicked on his light to indicate a Montreal goal that wasn’t, in fact, a goal, Fontinato dashed behind the New York net to make his case. From the Montreal Star:

He threw a mighty right hook at the glass protecting the judge, and kept throwing punches at no-one in particular … sitting next to the judge was “Rocket” Richard, and Fontinato had a few words for the injured Hab ace, too.

I can’t say how seriously shredded Talbot’s sweater was in 1957. We have a more detailed damage report from a 1986 incident.

In this one, the Edmonton Oilers were in Calgary to aggravate the Flames, and Edmonton defenceman Marty McSorley did his part by bumping Calgary goaltender Reggie Lemelin. Flames’ centreman Doug Risebrough saw this as grounds for punching McSorley who, of course, punched back in what the Gazette’s Red Fisher described as a “free-swinging affair.”

“Somehow,” Fisher noted, “he found himself in the penalty box with McSorley’s sweater and promptly ripped it to shreds with his skates.”

Edmonton coach and GM Glen Sather wasn’t happy. He called Risebrough “childish” and declared that their friendship was over. He lodged a complaint with NHL disciplinarian Brian O’Neill. “What’s more,” Sather said, “the Flames will be getting a $1,000-bill for McSorley’s shredded sweater.”

The NHL declined to take up the case. Risebrough was contrite. “I’m sorry I did it,” he said, after a day or two. “It’s something you when you’re really upset. It was a bad reaction on my part and I’m embarrassed by it.”

According to Fran Rosa of the Boston Globe, Risebrough had been methodical in the moment, soaking McSorley “in water to soften it” before going to work with his skates.

The Oilers subsequently retrieved the remains, which they hung in their dressing room to stir their memories and anti-Calgary choler.

 

 

(Top image: Tex Coulter, 1958)

non-fungible number 9

Elbow Room: “Gordie ‘Pow!'” by Detroit artist Zelley was offered for sale as an NFT earlier this fall by the Hoe Foundation. (Image: Howe Foundation)

I lost track of the bidding soon after the bidding started, in October, on the Gordie Howe NFTs. If there was bidding. Was there? I wasn’t bidding, but I think people were, if I’m not mistaken, people who saw an opportunity to acquire exclusive works of art depicting one of the greatest hockey players ever to have played, for the purpose of … not hanging them on the wall, or anywhere, due to the non-fungibility of the works in question, as I understand it, which I don’t, entirely.

I’ve been slow on the NFT uptake, I confess. Trying to catch up. Gordie Howe’s token efforts snared my attention because (i) Gordie Howe and (ii) I’m always interested in the artwork that hockey inspires. I didn’t need to be seeking to acquire any of the vaporous masterworks on offer to activate my curiosity in the subject-matter and the history on which they draw. That came naturally.

Howe’s grandson, Travis Howe, is the founder of this feast — Mark Howe’s son. There’s a video you can watch that has Travis explaining the whole concept behind The Gentl9man 2021 NFT Art Collection. The idea, in short, is to be sharing “some really special stories that have true meaning to the Howe family” while raising money for the good causes that the Howe Foundation has long believed in and supported. I can get behind that, even if I’m not bidding: the Howe Foundation does worthy work in aid of both getting kids active and in backing women aspiring to make their way in the world of sports business.

Along with a reproduction of a sketch of Mr. Hockey’s own, there were eight works originally on offer in October, by a Detroit artist, Matt Zelley, a.k.a. just plain Zelley. Among them is a great piece of puck-pointillism, reproduced at the foot of this post; another portrays Gordie Howe as an oncoming locomotive — at least I think that’s the concept. Promised as a premium bonus to the lucky buyer of the poppy Roy Lichtenstein-inspired piece at the top of the post: “a game-used pair of Gordie’s elbow pads” currently on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Zelley’s interpretations of some of the landmarks of Howe lore are to your taste or not; all the works are up for viewing at the Howe Foundation site.

It’s not the commerce involved with these NFTs that I’m interested in, particularly, nor Zelley’s decisions as an artist. What I’m here for (sorry if you’re not) is the storytelling that’s behind the project, and the messages it’s sending — and ignoring. While there’s plenty to consider and to discuss in each of these Howe Zelleys, the one that catches my attention in particular is the vivid one we’re looking at above, the one titled “Gordie ‘Pow!’”

Let me just disclaim, up front, any desire to mess with Gordie Howe’s legacy. He remains one of hockey’s undeniable greats — Maurice Richard himself will be testifying to that a little further down. Howe’s talents were mountainous, as was his strength and his durability. I’m not denying any of that. He played the game at such a high level for such a long time, was an idol to so many, worked tirelessly as an ambassador of the game he loved, seems to have been just a great guy, so long as you were meeting him in circumstances in which you weren’t trying to take the puck away from him or otherwise stymie his progress on NHL ice.

But also? There’s no getting away from the fact that, on that ice, he was a clear and present danger to anyone who got in his way. Gordie Howe was violent and he was mean.

You don’t have to take my word for it. “Meanest player in the league,” Andy Bathgate called him in 1959, “uses all the tricks plus.” A sampling of the press Howe got when he first retired in 1971 might include Dave Anderson’s verdict in the New York Times: “Sure, this soft-spoken man was dirty. Some say the dirtiest.” Son Marty has called him (with, I guess, affection) “the toughest, meanest guy I’ve ever seen on a pair of skates.” Howe was often injured, we know; he also did a lot of injuring. I’ve written about both, including here and here.

Hockey, which is to say hockey people, long ago found ways to reconcile itself to and excuse the violence it tolerates within the game. One of them is to insist that assaults that take place on the ice are somehow different from those that occur elsewhere, beyond the confines of arena boards. (That this fiction has taken hold and, mostly, been accepted in the wider world is a magic no-one truly understands.) There’s a rhetorical trick hockey people like, too, the one that seeks to detach hockey players from the anti-social behaviours they sometimes perpetrate by emphasizing what wonderful people they are away from the game. I’ve written about this before — specifically in reference to Gordie Howe, in fact — without ever really understanding the logic at work. The Howe Foundation’s NFT project blithely embraces the contradiction by including the concept of [sic] gentl9manliness in the title of a collection that includes portraits of our hero punching and knocking out opponents.

In those works, Zelley honours and adds to another tradition of hockey’s tendency to downplay its own brutality, whether or not he’s actually aware it. “Gordie ‘Pow!’” is an actual cartoon, so it’s hard to blame it for doing (and doing well) what cartoons are meant to do: brighten, distort, exaggerate, spoof the real world for entertainment’s sake.

Here’re the rubric accompanying the piece in the Howe Foundation’s online gallery:

Gordie “Pow!”

“It’s better to give than to receive.”
— Gordie Howe

With playful colors and a comic-inspired style, a smiling Gordie Howe uses one of his infamous elbows on Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Contrary to popular belief, there was no bad blood between the two players. That myth began when Howe hit Richard coming across the line, and according to Howe, “he spun like a rocket and fell down.” Howe went on to explain, “He wasn’t hurt that much and I started to laugh. But the laughter stopped when there were eight guys on me.”

Where to begin? Also: how to begin, without sounding like a serious finger-wagging pedant? I guess maybe would I get going by pointing out that elbowing, infamous or otherwise, is a penalty, following up to ask why the act of knocking out an opponent, even rendered with a playful palette, would be one you’d want to spotlight? Yes, I think that’s how I’d do it.

Definitely looks like a headshot, too, that grinning Gordie has delivered here. We’re late to the scene, but I’d say that the Richard we’re seeing is unconscious, even before he’s down — which won’t be good for his head when it does hit the ice in the next (purely notional) panel. I guess if you were aiming to portray both Howe’s cheery nature and his grim record of administering concussions to opponents, this is how you’d do it, but again I’m going to fall back on questioning: why?

I know, I know: it’s comic-inspired, not an accurate portrayal, what’s the big fuss, why do I hate fun?

It just strikes me as stoutly strange that (i) this is the one of the (quote) really special stories that has true meaning to the Howe family and (ii) that no-one involved in the project saw any dissonance in turning hockey head trauma into a cartoon for a Howe-related project.

Mr. Hockey, after all, spent the last years of his life with dementia that, as son Marty talked about in 2012, was surely related to the injuries he suffered in his hockey-playing years. “You play 33 years at that level without a helmet,” the younger Howe told the Toronto Star’s Mark Zwolinski, “and things are going to happen.” Did he have CTE? It’s not clear; as far as I know the family didn’t donate Howe’s brain for study after his death in 2016 at the age of 88. In 2012, Marty Howe said that the Howes had no plans to do so.

Marty and Mark and their two other siblings, Murray and Cathy, did write an afterword to the autobiography that Howe published in 2014. My Story is a bright and entertaining package, written in the confident first-person; only on a back-end acknowledgments page does Howe credit Calgary writer Paul Haavardsrud for helping “to take the thoughts in my head and put them down on paper.” As John Branch wrote in a review of the book for the New York Times, the whole enterprise raises “at least two questions, both unanswered: What kind of damage did hockey do to Howe’s brain? And how does someone with dementia, which severely impacts memory, write a memoir?”

The afterword, which the Howe children presumably penned themselves, does actually attempt to rationalize the punishment and pain that were such prominent parts of their father’s professional brand. It’s almost endearing.

“How can someone who’s so kind and soft-spoken at home become so remorseless once he puts on skates,” they ask. Answer: “It’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde duality that’s not easy to reconcile.”

It comes down to his professionalism. That’s what they believe. His job was to win; he did his job.

“He decided early in his career that to be successful in the NHL he’d need to give the opposition a reason to slow down when they came to get the puck. If that meant throwing an elbow or putting some lumber on a guy, then it seemed like fair game to him. After all, everybody in the NHL was being paid to be there, and the odd cut or bruise was just the cost of doing business.”

Here’s where differ from those earlier (and forthcoming) witness statements. “Ironically,” the Howe siblings propose,

it was the respect he had for other players that made him feel like he had a license to play as ruthlessly as he did. He wasn’t mean-spirited or dirty; he just figured that a few stitches or a knock to the ribs didn’t cause any real harm. If it gave him the extra split second he needed to make a play, then that was justification enough for him. In his mind, playing any other way would be shortchanging the team. Some people might not approve, but his tactics gave him the space he needed to operate for more than 30 years. There was definitely a method to his madness.

I can’t decide if the generosity of this reading outweighs its naïveté, or whether do they just cancel each other out? That the Howe children decided to address their father’s on-ice vehemence at all should be recognized — but then so should the fact that they then so studiously avoid any serious discussion of the head trauma that Gordie Howe suffered and administered even as they’re leading up to their mention of his “cognitive impairment” in the last few pages of the book.

The jolly anecdote that Zelley and company have attached to “Gordie ‘Pow!’” is, if nothing else, of a piece with the reputational reset that Mr. Hockey proposes.

I know, I know: the quote about the supposed bad blood between Detroit’s most famous number 9 and his Montreal counterpart is accurate: it’s something that Gordie Howe did indeed tell Dave Stubbs, then of the Montreal Gazette, in 2007. They were in Montreal, at a gala celebrating the charitable works of a mutual acquaintance Howe knew as “John” — Jean Béliveau. Most of the account Stubbs wrote focussed on the amicable relationship that those latter two enjoyed through the years. Here’s a fuller excerpt:

They fought hard, but within the rules during a time of bitter rivalries, when teams met each other 14 or more times per season. Neither recalls ever dropping the gloves against the other.

It was the late Rocket Richard, a fellow right-winger, that lore has Howe detesting.

“There was no dislike,” Howe said. “I respected him. I’d watch every move he made, if it could benefit my hockey. …

“They always thought there was bad blood because I hit him once coming across the line and he spun like a rocket and fell down. He wasn’t hurt that much and I started to laugh. But the laughter stopped when there were eight guys on me.

“I felt sorry for the Rocket. I never felt he enjoyed the game. If he wasn’t having a good night, he’d just as soon explode. That fellow didn’t know when to stop, did he? But I admired him.”

So much so that Howe named his dog for Richard. Surely the four-legged Rocket is a ferocious, brooding beast?

Howe leans in close.

“A toy poodle,” he whispered, his playfulness worn in a grin.

A great party piece, that last bit, if a little cruel. The pity, just before that, is interesting. As for Howe’s assertion that there was no antipathy between the two superstars — I’ll grant that it’s entirely likely and unsurprising — allowable, even — that at that late date, when Howe was 79, with almost half-a-century gone by since the two men last met on NHL ice, that’s how he chose to remember the way it once was, benevolently, generously, electing to settle back on the comforting chimera that as old rivals they two had engaged in honourable sportive struggle against one another with reverence and esteem as their mutual watchwords.

The historical record isn’t entirely contradictory — let’s just say that it has a finer grain to it.

Howe and Richard were fighting each other on the ice as early as 1949, when Richard was 27 and Howe was 20. Detroit and Montreal had a bad-tempered meeting that January at the Forum wherein Richard engaged in what the local Gazette rated as “determined slugfests” with Howe and Red Wing captain Sid Abel. In both cases, the Gazette decided, he was “on the short end of the punch-throwing.” The Rocket was hurt, too, in one of those melees, tearing a muscle in his hip.

Red Wing defenceman Red Kelly later recalled that the referee on the night, King Clancy, skated in to adjudicate when Howe and Richard first began to scruffle, calling off the players who were trying to separate the two. “Let ’em alone. Let ’em fight. Let’s see who is the best fighter,” Clancy said, by Kelly’s 1970 account. (Before it was all over — accidentally or not — Richard ended up punching Clancy, too.)

That wasn’t the only occasion on which Howe and Richard brawled. There was this time, too, which I don’t have a precise date for, though the details of the respective uniforms would seem to say it’s pre-1956:

Howe v. Richard: An undated photo of Detroit’s number 9 and Montreal’s. That’s Red Wing Marty Pavelich sitting atop the boards, which suggests that the photo was taken in 1956 or earlier.

However warmly Howe and/or members of his family have spoken of Richard in recent years, both men did see, in their time, see fit to putting some pricklier feelings on the page.

Here’s the Rocket writing about Howe in his 1971 Stan Fischler-mediated autobiography:

He was big and strong and skated with great ease. He could do what no other player in the league could do, shoot the puck from either the left or right side. I noticed Howe when he first joined the Red Wings in the late forties and he impressed me as a good, but not a great, hockey player.

That changed, with the years. “Looking back,” Richard says, “I would say that Howe is the best all-around hockey player I’ve ever seen, and that includes Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr.”

The next paragraph, I guess, counts as … praise?

Another thing about Gordie that I experienced firsthand was that he was a dirty hockey player, not tough, mind you, but dirty — and he would take absolutely nothing from anybody. If you gave him a bad check, you could be sure he’d get even with you, in spades! But he wouldn’t start it. In that sense, Howe and I were the same. I would never hit anybody first if he hadn’t done anything to me before.

In their 2000 book, 9: Maurice Richard, Reluctant Hero, Chris Goyens, Frank Orr, and Jean-Luce Duguay quote Richard near the end of his career. “Howe is a great player, the best I ever played against, but he should hustle more. He doesn’t seem to be trying as hard as he could. He was a better all-round player than I was, maybe the best ever. But I think he should have scored more big goals, like in the playoffs.”

Finally, the 1995 memoir Howe produced with Tom DeLisle’s help is instructive, too, and offers more nuance on the relationship than what we’re getting from the Howe Foundation’s NFT catalogue. Billed as “an authorized autobiography by Gordie and Colleen Howe,” And … Howe! includes a chapter called SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT. Here’s the salient sub-head followed by Howe’s reminiscence as it appears on the page:

THE ROCKET AND GORDIE HAVE NEVER BEEN FRIENDS SINCE GORDIE BROKE THE ROCKET’S GOAL RECORD OF 544.

GORDIE: Things have changed but, at the time, I hated the old (bleep). Of course, he hated me too. There were a few guys he hated worse than me, like [Ted] Lindsay and Stan Mikita. But that was then. Now, Rocket and I are pretty good friends. We do a few things together, and he and his now deceased wife, Lucille, were our first choices to be included in a book Colleen produced a few years ago about former players and their families, entitle After The Applause. So I think that shows our respect for him.

Rocket said once in the paper that “Gordie might have more goals, but my goals were more important.” I told somebody, “I don’t want to fight with Rocket, but I’d like to say that his goals meant bugger-all to me.” Essentially he’s such a proud man. He was a goalscorer, I was a goalscorer. I had to take him out, he had to take me out. That was our job from the blueline in. Rocket was such a powerful man. He had one habit I perceived, however, he would come down and cut across the blueline because he liked to get to the center of the ice and shoot. Everything was quick wrist shots. So one time, as he came across the blueline, I really nailed him. We ended up in a fight.

This is the 1949 clash described earlier. As the Detroit Free Press saw it, “Richard and Howe met heavily inside the Detroit blueline and came up fighting. They kept swinging lustily with bare fists and tumbled to the ice.”

Back to Howe’s telling:

There was a flurry of people around. Somebody pushed me from behind and I went down on one knee. And for some reason, Rocket was under my left knee. I waited, and when he looked up, I popped him. I whacked him a pretty good one. Then all hell broke loose, and when they got us apart we were yapping like jaybirds at one another. Then Sid Abel poked his nose in, and said to the Rocket, “Aw, you big frog, you finally got what you were asking for.” And Rocket goes — BAM! — and breaks Sid’s nose. Then I started to laugh, it looked so darn funny. Then Sid went in an did a job on the Rocket, again.

Rocket was talking about that episode a little while ago. He said, “I took on your whole damn team, no wonder I lost.” Even in a loss, he could be so proud. The guy is unbelievable.”

Full Count: Zelley’s “1,071 Pucks,” another NFT that went up for sale earlier this fall, with the number recognizing the goals Howe scored in the NHL and WHA.(Image: Howe Foundation)

long time running

Let the record show (as it duly does) that it was on Monday, April 19 earlier this year that Patrick Marleau played in the 1,768th regular-season game of his 23-year NHL career and that while his San Jose Sharks lost on the night in a 3-2 shootout to the Vegas Golden Knights, Marleau did surpass fellow Saskatchewaner Gordie Howe’s record for games played on the ice in Nevada. Now 42, Marleau isn’t skating this season, but nor has he officially retired, so there’s a chance he could add to the total of 1,779 games he finished out last season with.

To honour Marleau’s achievement, the Sharks commissioned Ottawa artist Tony Harris to paint this portrait, which was presented to the Swift-Current-born centreman this past summer. Harris, of course, is an accomplished portrayer of hockey heroes and heroics: in 2017, he undertook to paint the NHL’s 100 greatest players for the league’s centenary. I wrote about that, and about Harris, for a New York Times profile you can find here (and also here); for more of his mastery, visit his website. Working up the Marleau portrait, Harris was noting earlier this month, he aimed to pay tribute to Marleau’s family in the details. So Marleau’s wife’s name, Christina, is inscribed in the cuff of a glove, and his sons’ initials appear on the stock of his stick. Marleau’s (and Howe’s) Saskatchewan roots are hidden in plain sight, too: Howe’s stick features a sheaf of prairie wheat, while the stars that fill the nighttime background depict the exact constellation that was arranged over Swift Current that April night earlier this year when Marleau skated out in Vegas for his record-breaking game.

(Top image courtesy of Tony Harris)

fluster out front

Incoming: The hometown Detroit Red Wings outshot the New York Rangers  42-20 at the Olympia on Thursday, November 11, 1965, but the Rangers’ rookie goaltender Ed Giacomin made sure they settled for a 3-3 tie. Seen here on the right gazing around Harry Howell, Gordie Howe scored the 599th goal of his career on the night. Also in the picture, waiting for the puck to arrive: New York defenceman Arnie Brown and Red Wing left winger Ab McDonald tussle in front of Giacomin.

lum (+ chums)

Apple Cheeks: Born in Owen Sound, Ontario, on this date in 1926 (another Thursday), Harry Lumley did his goaling for … well, everybody in the oldtime NHL but the Montreal Canadiens. He won a Stanley Cup championship in 1950 in Detroit, aided by these two epic Red Wings, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. As a Leaf Lumley won the Vézina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 1954; he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

leo boivin, 1931—2021

Happy to oblige photographer Louis Jaques, captain Leo Boivin smiled for his camera at the end of December, 1963, but the truth is that his Boston Bruins were in a bad patch, losers of five games in a row.

Saddened to hear of Boivin’s death today, at the age of 90. Born in Prescott, Ontario, in August of 1931, he went on to play 19 seasons as an NHL defenceman, serving time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Minnesota North Stars as well as with the Bruins. Appointed Boston’s 17th captain in ’63, he wore the Bruin C for three seasons. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986. As a coach Leo Boivin steered the St. Louis Blues for parts of two seasons in the 1970s.

That winter of ’63, the Bruins’ five-game spiral included two losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs, starting with a Christmas-Day rout, 5-1, at the Boston Garden in a game in which Frank Mahovlich scored two goals.

In Toronto on the 28th, Johnny Bower shut them out 2-0. Bruins coach Milt Schmidt wasn’t pleased, of course. He was giving speeches behind closed doors and, in the press, looking to players like Johnny Bucyk to step up. “Bucyk is a guy who could do a lot for us, if he puts his mind to it,” Schmidt was saying. “He just has to go out there and punish himself. He has to work harder and quit taking that big skate. A forward has to take it out of himself with stops and starts to get anywhere. There’s no easy way.”

After Toronto, the Bruins went to Detroit where Schmidt moved Boivin from the defence onto Bucyk’s wing in an effort to keep Gordie Howe under wraps. The Bruins lost again. “We’re hitting a lot of posts,” Schmidt said, “but we’re not scoring those goals.” The new year brought some respite: on January 1, back home, they managed a 3-3 tie with the Montreal Canadiens. No goals for Bucyk, and no game for Leo Boivin: he was out of the line-up with strep throat.

(Photo: Louis Jaques, Library and Archives Canada/e002343751)