Mr. Hockey

on June 2016 | in Sports | by Dario Passarelli | @PapaDart | with No Comments

For the second straight weekend in a row, the world has lost a sporting icon. As they were laying Muhammad Ali to rest, word quickly spread that Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe passed away. He was 88 years old. It’s hard to describe the feeling upon hearing the news because his passing felt different than Ali’s, and different from the recent passing of other icons such as Prince or even David Bowie. It felt closer to home, more personal. Howe wasn’t just a hockey legend, he was a Canadian hero. That may be a little hard to fathom after he spent his hockey career and most of his adult life in the United States. But when you examine what made him special on the ice and what made him special off of it, you get the feeling that this is how we want to world to think Canadians are like.

More often than not, the first time today’s generation hears of Mr. Hockey is when a parent gleefully mentions the Gordie Howe hat-trick. It is an infamous stat line of getting 1 goal, 1 assist and having 1 fight in a game. Even though the 23 time all-star only did it twice in his career, it was a tribute to all that he was. You come to understand that Gordie Howe wasn’t just a hockey player; the ageless right-winger embodied what it meant to be the complete hockey player. He could shoot, he could pass, he could skate, he could play defence, he could hit, he could fight and god-forbid if you ever got on his naughty list because if he met you along the boards, he had no problem introducing you to his alter ego “Mr. Elbows”.

To grasp fully what the Saskatchewan boy meant to hockey, you have to look past some of his obvious achievements. It isn’t because he played 25 years for the Detroit Red Wings before he retired (the first time). You can take away the 4 Stanley Cups he won, the 6 Art Ross Trophies (scoring leader) and take away his 6 Hart Ross Trophies (MVP) as well. What you have left is a man who quite simply, loved the game, he really loved it. A couple of years after he retired he joined the World Hockey League because it gave him the opportunity to play professional hockey with his sons. He joined the Houston Aeros while he was in his mid-40s. As you should come to expect when it comes to Howe, he didn’t just play, he dominated. Howe won two championships and Most Valuable Player. When the WHL merged into the NHL, Howe followed and played his last, full season in 1980 as a Hartford Whaler. He was an astonishing 52 years old.

Wayne Gretzky had more goals than Howe and broke more records. Bobby Orr was grace on ice and gifted enough to win a scoring championship as a defenceman. Both of these players are considered the best of their generation, and perhaps the best in hockey. But ask each of them who the best hockey player ever was and they unhesitatingly say, Gordie Howe. Quite simply he could do it all and he did it for far longer than anyone could possibly imagine.

There is no denying the fact that hockey is Canada’s sport. It is a tough game, played by tough athletes and we love those that can play the physical game. But as Canadians, we also want our hero’s to be modest, humble and even somewhat apologetic for their greatness. That is why Gordie Howe is so special to Canadians. On the ice he didn’t just beat you, he beat you up. Off the ice however, he carried himself as an ordinary man with a disarming smile. As a competitor he was fierce, rough and unforgiving. As a person he was as a family man, kind and generous with his time. He was never braggadocios like Ali, never had the need nor the desire to tell you he was the best. Others voluntarily did that for him. He didn’t seek the spotlight or the applause, in fact it genuinely embarrassed him. Fans talk about how afraid they were in approaching this legend for an autograph yet all went away amazed at how gentle, wonderful and pleasurable he made the experience. He was special, so special, but he never acted like he was. That is why when the world thinks of Canada, we want them to think of Gordie Howe.

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