HodgePodge: Howie and Howe changed the game

Howie and Howe changed the game

HodgePodge by Charlie Hodge

It seems sometimes one is simply supposedly led to select a certain path or route – like today’s column.

I’d discovered an old column from 2016 and was going to remind folks of the uppercut of robbing the world of boxing legend Muhammed Ali. Ironically while the boxing world had reeled from the loss of Mohammed Ali and the accolades and hearty goodbyes began for the former world heavyweight champion, the world had also then learned of the passing of the legendary hockey great Gordie Howe. You don’t have to be a sports fan to recognize the double whammy that was of robbing the world of two fine people.

Ali was probably the greatest athlete in modern times, separating Ali from Wayne Gretzky simply based on cultural and social impact. While Ali will go down in history as ‘The Greatest’, and Gretzky as ‘The Great One’, Howe leaves this planet with two tags: ‘Mr. Hockey’ and ‘The Great Gordie Howe’. In many ways, though the oldest of the three, Gordie was a perfect blend of the other two. Without question a talented athletic specimen Gordie was also the epitome of humbleness, toughness, and (ironically) gentleness.

Regardless, I digress. I was plugging away on a non-hockey column figuring I had written enough about hockey already this month and need to find another topic.

As some readers may know, or certainly followers of Gonzo Okanagan or the Capital News online version of HodgePodge, I was interviewed by Toronto Sun writer Lance Hornby on my memoirs of Howie Meeker.

It was Hockey Night in Canada Week and since I’ve written two books on Meeker a former NHL player, coach, GM and broadcaster, Lance thought I may be worth chatting with.

Lance and I swapped yarns and chuckles for an hour or two as he asked me to embellish more info out of my two books and when I saw the article I thought he did a fine job. Ironically, I don’t think any of them involved Howie with Howe.

I was honoured to meet the legendary right-winger – largely due to my association with Howie.

During our five years together writing two books Howie often reminisced about his unique parallel life to Gordie. One of the great hockey trivia questions remains, ‘Who beat Gordie Howe for the rookie of the year Calder trophy in 1946-47 season?’ The answer of course was Hurricane Howie. Meeker had a tremendous first season filling with the net with pucks, establishing a record still held today of five goals in one game as a rookie, and went on to win his first of four Stanley Cups that year.

Meeker scoffed at beating Howe for the Calder.

“That was the greatest miscarriage of justice in hockey,” Howe grins. “It was outrageously unfair. I was a young man returning from war, a veteran of life and ready to take on the world. Gordie was a gangly 17-year-old, snotty-nosed kid playing against men in an incredibly competitive environment. But even then you knew the kid was going to be something else. Two or three years later and I could not carry the kid’s suitcase. Winning the Calder trophy? Phooey what a joke,” Howie says.

Among the many legends of Howe was his on-ice toughness and his legendary friendship with fellow Detroit Red Wing Ted Lindsay. Meeker, to his chagrin, was more than familiar with both characters. In fact, he knew them far too well for his own liking.

“We (Gordie) and I fought all the time over the years. Oddly enough we got along fine but somehow we always wound up fighting. I always started scrapping somebody else like Ted Lindsay and then Howe would step in and we go at it. I’m not sure why Howe had to step in cause Lindsay was tough enough on his own, but he would. Gordie was a big, tough boy and very, very strong. People always talk about how much we fought, and I thought it was an exaggeration. But I never really fought with Gordie; Gordie fought I just took the shit-kickings,” tolled me with a chuckle.

Many will argue that Gordie was the greatest hockey player that ever donned the blades. It is a debate that has gone on long before Wayne Gretzky, Mary Lemieux, and even Bobby Orr. While I do not rank Howe as the number one all-time on ice player (nor did Meeker) it is fair to say he was probably the greatest player for the game in the big picture.

Not only did Howe represent dedication, perseverance, toughness, athleticism, and humbleness – he was also a gentleman (forgetting his elbows and ferocity for fighting) and an ambassador of the game. He captured our imagination playing during over five decades and joining his sons professionally on the ice.

Meeker did it all for the game. Won four Stanley Cups, played eight years, was coach and general manager for the Leafs, created effective hockey schools as they are today, and set the bar in broadcasting.

At another time in history there will be those who may recall a few Howe incidents they may not necessarily view as all star like (i.e.: not supporting the initial players union, or abandoning the NHL for the WHA) however at the end of the day Gordie Howe was indeed Mr. hockey.

There is the irony, Meeker and Howe were fiercer opponents on the ice but even fiercer in promoting the game, sportsmanship, and those around them.

Meeker and Howe changed the game and the world around them.

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Charlie Hodge is a best-selling author, writer, a current Kelowna City Councillor, and a Director on the Regional District of the Central Okanagan Board. He spent more than 25 years as a full-time newspaper journalist and has a diverse background in public relations, promotions, personal coaching, and strategic planning. A former managing editor, assistant editor, sports editor, entertainment editor, journalist, and photographer, Hodge also co-hosted a variety of radio talk shows and still writes a regular weekly newspaper column titled Hodge Podge, which he has crafted now for 41 years. His biography on Howie Meeker, titled Golly Gee It’s Me is a Canadian bestseller and his second book, Stop It There, Back It Up – 50 Years of the NHL garnered lots of attention from media and hockey fans alike. Charlie is currently working on a third hockey book, as well as a contracted historical/fiction novel. His creative promotional skills and strategic planning have been utilized for many years in the Canadian music industry, provincial, national, and international environmental fields, and municipal, provincial, and federal politics. Charlie is a skilled facilitator, a dynamic motivational speaker, and effective personal coach. His hobbies include gardening, canoeing, playing pool, and writing music. Charlie shares his Okanagan home with wife Teresa and five spoiled cats.


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