By: Will Burchfield
Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Gordie Howe likely has a treasure trove of stories about Mr. Hockey. Few knew him better than his youngest son, Murray Howe, whose book ‘Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father’ hit stores this week.
In advance of the book’s release, Murray sat down with Wayne Gretzky, a close family friend of the Howes, to share some of the highlights.
The following quotes were provided to Maclean’s by Penguin Random House Canada.
Gretzky asked Howe what he saw in his father that maybe no one else had the pleasure of seeing. Howe told Gretzky that Gordie was “endlessly, tirelessly playful” with his kids:
“One of my most indelible memories happened after tagging along with Dad to Olympia for the Red Wings’ practice. I was about five, and had the hallowed Wings ice surface all to myself while the players suited up. I was having a blast flying around the rink, the imaginary packed house cheering me on as I bobbed and weaved past invisible defencemen. Suddenly, my skates flew out from underneath me as if whacked by an invisible stick.
“I heard a laugh echoing from the far end of the rink, and there was my dad, arms raised overhead in the gesture any hockey fan knows means “GOAL!” He had stepped onto the far end of the rink, still in his dress clothes, and fired a blistering wrist-shot that hit my skates mid-stride. Only Mr. Hockey could do that on the first try! I might be the only kid in history who enjoyed being knocked on his keister by his dad.”
Gretzky asked Howe who his father looked up to. Howe said Gordie idolized his two older brothers, Vern and Norm, and the various hockey players from his hometown of Saskatoon who turned pro:
“One that stood out for Dad was Ab Welsh. Ab was a neighbour who played on Saskatoon’s semi-pro team. My dad would wait outside the arena hoping to carry in the skates for a player, as this was the only way for him to get into the game. He had no money for a ticket. Skates were so valuable that the players carried them separately from their hockey bag so that they wouldn’t get stolen.”
Howe also pointed to a memorable encounter Gordie had with a former NHLer by the name of Harry Watson, who played against Mr. Hockey well before he earned that nickname:
“After the game, Harry Watson skated over to my dad. ‘How old are you, son?’ he asked. My dad told him (he was 14), and Mr. Watson said, ‘Well, I guess we’ll see you in the NHL!’ Four years later Dad squared off against him at Olympia Stadium, and Harry winked at him and said, ‘I told you I’d see you here!’ My dad cherished the moment so much that, often when he signed autographs for young hockey players, he honoured Harry Watson by signing ‘See you in the NHL.'”
Gretzky asked Howe why his two brothers, Mark and Marty, called Gordie by his first name — instead of ‘Dad’ — when they were on the ice together. Howe told Gretzky it was Gordie’s request:
“Dad was conditioned to respond to the name ‘Gordie’ on the ice, and not to the name ‘Dad.’ My brothers Mark and Marty both played with him in the WHA and the NHL so they called him ‘Gordie’ on the ice. I believe it was only after Dad specifically asked them to do so. On the other hand, since I didn’t play alongside him professionally, I was not invited to call him ‘Gordie.’ I tried it once when I was about 13, just to be funny, but the look he gave me made it abundantly clear that I had just overstepped my boundaries. I never did it again.”
Note: This story was updated to fix a previous error that attributed the book ‘Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father’ to Marty Howe, not its author Murray.