As a youngster growing up in Burlington, I was always mesmerized every time I saw Gordie Howe play hockey.
For starters, he was one of the smoothest skaters in the NHL. He was also the perfect combination of goals and grit. When Howe was on the ice, you could always count on something happening – either he’d score a goal or engage in some physical activity. Howe became as notorious for delivering crushing elbows as he did for scoring goals.
Howe had such an awesome presence. A right-shooting right winger, he would often skate onto the ice holding his stick like he shot left. Just before the puck would drop, he’d switch back to right. And if you watched him during the warmup, you’d notice he often switched it up and actually shot left.
After watching Howe, I would spend hours on my backyard rink doing the same thing – switching from my natural left and learning how to shoot right. I actually scored a goal taking a slap shot right-handed in a high school game once. Thanks Gordie.
As a young reporter in Peterborough, I was asked to interview Howe, who was in town as a special guest at a summer hockey school. Now I don’t get star struck too often, but I must admit I had a few butterflies in my tummy as I headed over to the Kinsman Arena to sit down with No. 9.
As I might have expected, Gordie was absolutely wonderful, answering all my questions and showing genuine interest in helping me out. Imagine sitting in a dressing room with just yourself and one of the greatest hockey players who ever lived!
When Gordie answered my final question, I thanked him and started to leave.
“Where the hell are you going?” Howe bellowed.
“Uh, back to work,” I offered.
“I don’t go back on the ice for another half hour,” replied Howe. “Are you going to leave me alone in this dressing room?”
I sat back down and listened as Gordie Howe talked about his illustrious career; about what it was like to play professional hockey with his sons; about the players who gave him the most trouble (Rocket Richard was one) and on and on.
In the 32 years I have covered hockey, I can honestly say that was one of the best days of my career; one I’ll never forget.
Happy birthday, Mr. Hockey.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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