Mr. Hockey has passed on, but his legend will continue to grow. And while everyone seems to have a great story about the man, the timing is right to unearth some of the more incredible tales that the man himself gave to us all.
The world is saying goodbye to Gordie Howe right now, but it isn’t really goodbye, is it? Mr. Hockey will always be a pillar of the sport, both for his incredible talent on the ice and his affable personality off of it.
While many great Howe stories have come to light since his passing, countless others can be shared. The man really had an incredible life. Here are five amazing tales from Gordie himself, from his autobiography, “Mr. Hockey: My Story.”
He should have been a New York Ranger
Howe’s first training camp with the Detroit Red Wings came in 1944, when he travelled to Windsor, Ont. But it wasn’t his first NHL training camp. That happened the year before in Winnipeg. Howe was invited there by the New York Rangers and scout Russ McCrory, who wanted to sign the phenom to a contract. Ironically, he played the camp as a defenseman because when the Rangers asked what position he played, he said “all of them.” Howe had in fact even played goalie as a youth.
Loneliness in Winnipeg during the camp weighed on Howe, as did New York’s preferred destination for the 15-year-old for the next season: Notre Dame, the famed high school in Wilcox, Sask., that produced players such as Vincent Lecavalier, Sean Couturier, Curtis Joseph and Wendel Clark in more recent times. But Notre Dame was a Catholic school and Howe didn’t think he’d fit there – plus Wilcox was far from home. So he turned the Rangers down.
He almost killed a Mountie
When he was 14, Howe got to play in senior league games in Saskatoon during the Second World War (when a lot of men were away). Things got pretty out of hand one night when his squad was turfing the locals and a bench-clearing brawl broke out. Soon, the fans were jumping on the ice and it was all-out bedlam. A veteran teammate told Howe to stand behind him for protection, but also to watch the veteran’s back. Sure enough, someone came at them and Howe smacked the guy in the head with his stick, sending the assailant to the ice in a heap. Only then did Howe notice the yellow stripe running down the side of the man’s pants – he was an RCMP officer. Howe’s teammate hustled him out of the arena before The Law caught up to him and it never did.
He built bombers during the Second World War
Even though Howe was signed by the Red Wings, he was still a teenager at the time. Detroit coach-GM Jack Adams wasn’t exactly truthful (shocking!) with Howe on several occasions and the first came right away. Howe was assigned to the junior Galt Red Wings in Ontario, but the team was only allowed three “transfers” from the West. They already had two and as Howe later learned, chose Terry Cavanagh over him as the third.
Adams told Howe there was a different issue with the transfer and wanted Howe to stay in Galt to practise with the team anyway. Dutifully, the teen did so. When it came to signing up for high school, Howe got cold feet (never a good student, he may have been dyslexic) and walked over to a metal factory instead. Since the war was on, they needed workers and thanks to a sign-off from the team, Howe got a job spot-welding parts for the Mosquito bomber plane. He also worked on mortar shells.
He was a prairie hustler
Growing up in the 1930s wasn’t easy in Saskatchewan, especially in a family with nine kids. So when Howe needed money for the movies, he hustled. An avid fisherman all his life, Howe started out by catching fish and selling them to a local Chinese restaurant for five or ten cents. He also hunted gophers with a homemade slingshot, getting a penny per tail (Howe acknowledged in the book that he felt bad about the gophers in retrospect).
He was actually pretty shy
A titan on the ice, Howe was a lot quieter away from the rink. In fact, before he met his beloved wife Colleen, he had trouble talking to young women, even when they pursued him. One time he crawled through a window just to avoid a suitor and told another that he only liked women with gray hair. It all worked out in the end, though, as he and Colleen became lifelong partners.