Gordie Howe, who was so iconic that he was known as “Mr. Hockey,” began his illustrious career in 1946. On October 16, eight days after signing with the Detroit Red Wings, the 18-year-old played in his first NHL game. That night in Detroit, he scored his first goal, helping tie the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-3.
He finished his first season with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists). Not knowing the records he would go on to break, purportedly, “He kept a scrapbook of his first year, proof for future generations that he’d in fact played in the NHL.” The following season, he and his best friend, Ted Lindsay, became the wings around center Sid Abel and “The Production Line” became one of the most successful in hockey. Lindsay said of Howe, “I call him the greatest hockey player to ever play the game.” Six times each, Howe earned the Art Ross Trophy (as lead scorer) and the Hart Memorial Trophy (as MVP). The Red Wings won four Stanley Cup championships during his time with them. Howe played a record 1,687 games over 25 seasons with Detroit before retiring with wrist problems.Then Howe came out of retirement to have a second playing career with the World Hockey Association (WHA). In 1973, Howe underwent wrist surgery so that he could play for the WHA’s Houston Aeros with his teenaged sons, Mark and Marty. Theirs was the first line featuring a father and two sons. The Aeros placed first in the West Division and won the Avco Cup championship that season and the next. The Howe family remained with the Aeros until 1977. They spent the last two years of the WHA with the New England Whalers.
Gordie Howe then returned to the NHL, on October 11, 1979, by playing his first game with the NHL-merged Hartford Whalers. Two days later, he scored his first NHL goal (since 1971) against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After the game, he announced that he would retire when the season ended. On the last game before playoffs, April 6, 1980, he scored his final regular-season goal.
That goal, number 801, set a record for career goals during the regular season that has only been topped by Wayne Gretzky (with 894). However, Gretzky’s total career goals (950) could not surpass Howe’s total from both the NHL and WHA (975). At retirement, Howe also led the NHL in assists (1,049) and points (1,850). He is still ranked ninth in assists and fourth in points, both lists now headed by Gretzky. In addition, Howe is seventh in WHA points (508), while his son Mark is eighth (504). Howe still leads the number of games played (1,767) over five decades in the NHL. Despite having beaten many of Howe’s records, Gretzky called Howe “the greatest player ever.”
- Kirk McKnight, The Voices of Hockey: Broadcasters Reflect on the Fastest Game on Earth (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 61-62, 194-195.
- Stephen Laroche, Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion (Toronto: ECW Press, 2014), 294-295.