DETROIT – Mark Howe grew up in the Motor City, when Gordie Howe was starring for the Detroit Red Wings, and played hockey on a rink in his front yard.
It’s not unusual for children to play on homemade sheets of ice in the Detroit area, but Howe’s setup was truly unique.
Christmas lights illuminated play after supper until it was time to sleep and wood from homes being built nearby kept the puck on the ice. The nets were from Olympia Stadium and so was the equipment, such as Terry Sawchuk’s goaltending gear, thanks to his famous father.
“It was easy for me to get kids over to play,” Mark Howe said recently. “It was first-class street hockey.”
Decades later, the 56-year-old son of a superstar has earned the right to join his father in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
What does it mean to the man known as Mr. Hockey?
“Everything,” Gordie Howe said, sitting across a table from his son, Mark, during an interview last week in Joe Louis Arena.
Mark Howe will be inducted Monday night in Toronto with Ed Belfour, in his first year of eligibility, Doug Gilmour and Joe Nieuwendyk. Red Wings analyst Mickey Redmond and Edmonton Sun columnist Terry Jones will be honoured earlier in the day at a luncheon.
The Howes will the fourth father-and-son pair to go into the Hall of Fame as players, joining Bobby and Brett Hull, Lester and Lynn Patrick and Oliver and Earl Seibert.
The late Coleen Howe, who is in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, helped Mark focus on creating a niche of his own in a game instead of worrying about getting lost in his father’s shadow.
Howe had 742 NHL points career. He started in 1979 in Hartford, flourished with the Philadelphia Flyers and finished with the Red Wings in 1995. He also had 504 points in the WHA. Howe started his career as a forward and was turned into a defenceman.
At the age of 18, Howe played for Houston in the WHA with his brother, Marty, and their father. The trio also was together on the ice for the Whalers when they made their NHL debut during the 1979-80 season.
The smart and smooth skater with a knack for making tape-to-tape passes helped the Flyers advance to the Stanley Cup finals twice, losing both times to Edmonton, and reach at least the conference finals three times in a five-year span.
“He has deserved to be a Hall of Famer for a while,” former Flyers teammate Brian Propp said Sunday. “Mark should’ve won the Norris when Rod Langway did in the mid-1980s, but I’m glad he’s getting his due because as a player and scout he’s the definition of a Hockey Hall of Famer.”
Howe has worked for the Red Wings since he retired.
He is Detroit’s director of pro scouting, taking him from his home in Jackson, N.J., to about 150 NHL and AHL games each season to help the team get ready to play opponents and evaluate possible players to pick up.
“In pro scouting, it’s all about finding the right fit and Mark does a great job with that for our organization,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He’s got a great passion for the game and a manager’s eye that helps him identify just the kind of players we want here.”
Mark Howe’s playing career was almost cut short on Dec. 27, 1980, when he was playing for the Whalers. He lost his balance and slid toward a net, raised his skates to protect his back and a piece of metal tore into his body—just missing his spinal column—in a horrific scene that led to him suing the league to make changes.
“I kept asking, ‘Am I going to live?'” he recalled.
Howe lost nearly two litres of blood before going into surgery that lasted several hours. When he hadn’t gotten out of bed for a few days, his father gave him hands-on help.
“Dad picked me up and said, ‘You’re going to walk,'” he recalled. “I think I threw up on him four or five times. All the rooms around me, just about everybody passed away that day, so it motivated me to get out of there.”