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Friday, June 17, 2016

Gordie Howe Week - The Gordie Howe Hat Trick

With the passing of hockey legend Gordie Howe last Friday, we pay tribute to one of the greatest players in hockey history, today with our fifth and final installment of Gordie Howe Week here at Third String Goalie as we take a look at the achievement named in his honor, The Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

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Howe, known for both his scoring ability combined with his unquestioned toughness, became the namesake for the combination of being credited for an assist, scoring a goal and engaging in a fight during a game. Despite the feat of having an offensive contribution combined with pugilism being named for Howe, he only managed the feat twice during his lengthy NHL career.

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His first came on October 11, 1953 when he fought Fern Flaman of the Toronto Maple Leafs, assisted  on a goal by Red Kelly and later scored a goal. His second Gordie Howe Hat Trick came later that same season when he first scored a goal, assisted on a goal by Ted Lindsay and then fought Teeder Kennedy, again against Toronto, on March 21, 1954.

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Combatants Howe and Kennedy with referee Red Dunn

The first recorded Gordie Howe Hat Trick happened back on December 22, 1920 when Harry Cameron of the Toronto St. Pats had a busy night against the Ottawa Senators.

The all-time leader in Gordie Howe Hat Tricks is Brendan Shanahan, with 17. His first came as a member of the New Jersey Devils on February 11, 1989. He would eventually have three while with New Jersey, five while as a member of the St. Louis Blues, one with the Hartford Whalers and eight for the Detroit Red Wings.

Detroit Red Wings 1997-98 jersey photo Detroit Red Wings 1997-98 F jersey.jpg
Detroit Red Wings 1997-98 jersey photo Detroit Red Wings 1997-98 B jersey.jpg
1997-98 Detroit Red Wings Brendan Shanahan jersey
from the career leader in Gordie Howe Hat Tricks.

Next on the list of regular season Gordie Howe Hat Tricks is Rick Tocchet with 15 while with the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Phoenix Coyotes and again for the Flyers. Adding in his playoff totals, Tocchet becomes the all-time leader with 18.

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1991-92 Philadelphia Flyers jersey photo Philadelphia Flyers 1991-92 22 B.jpg
1991-92 Philadelphia Flyers Rich Tocchet jersey

Brian Sutter checks in third with an even dozen, all while with the St. Louis Blues. Sutter also had an additional five Gordie Howe Hat Tricks in the postseason, which elevates him into a tie with Shanahan.

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St Louis Blues 84-85 jersey photo StLouisBlues84-85Bjersey.png
1984-85 St. Louis Blues Brian Sutter jersey

The active leader is Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunie Tig Junior Elvis Iginla of the Colorado Avalanche who currently sits at nine.

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2001-02 Calgary Flames Jarome Iginla jersey from
the current active Gordie Howe Hat Trick leader
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Double Gordie Howe Hat Tricks have happened on a few occasions, with the first being on March 9, 2010 when Fedor Tyutin had a goal and two assists and Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and an assist of his own as well as having a fight with each other!

Adam Henrique and Jarome Iginla duplicated the feat when they fought each other on January 10, 2012 with Iginla also having a goal and 2 assists and Henrique having one of each for a Gordie Howe Hat Trick of his own.

In a slightly more unusual variation of the double Gordie Howe Hat Trick, Joe Thornton and Ryan Clowe both had a goal, an assist and a fight for the San Jose Sharks, the only double by two players on the same team during the same game.

The most memorable night in Gordie Howe Hat Trick history was November 14, 1992 game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders when Tom Fitzgerald and Benoit Houge of the Islanders, Wayne Presley of Buffalo all achieved the feat for the only triple in Howe history, with Presley and Houge having fought each other in the final minute of the second period and Fitzgerald's fight completing his hat trick with a fight against the Sabres Colin Patterson at 13:46 of the third period.

History was made earlier this season when Steve Pinizzotto of the Edmonton Oilers was recalled  from the Oklahoma City Barons on November 19, 2014 for his 19th career NHL game and managed to record a Gordie Howe Hat Trick on the night he scored his first career NHL goal.

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Pinizzotto had his fight early in the game and then
proudly displays his first goal puck after the game

Today's featured jersey is a 1954-55 Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe jersey. Howe and the Red Wings would win their third Stanley Cup of Howe's career following the 1954-55 season. This sweater can be traced back to that era by the lack of sleeve numbers, which did not appear until later thanks to the advent of television coverage.

Detroit Red Wings 1955-56 jersey, Detroit Red Wings 1955-56 jersey
Detroit Red Wings 1955-56 jersey, Detroit Red Wings 1955-56 jersey
photos courtesy of Classic Auctions

While you may expect a rough, offensively skilled player like Shanahan or Tocchet to be a likely candidate for a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, sometimes a player who you might not expect can join the club, such as the offensively gifted Pavel Datsyuk.

Conversely, there are tough guys you don't expect to find on the scoresheet who have the planets align one magical night, allowing them to find the back of the net, such as career 17 goal scorer Kelly Chase of the Blues, who welcomes Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko to the club with a entertaining history lesson for the youngsters.

Finally,  the "Legends of Hockey" profile of Gordie Howe.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Gordie Howe Week - The 1980's - The Whalers and a Return to the NHL

With the passing of hockey legend Gordie Howe last Friday, we pay tribute to one of the greatest players in hockey history, today with our fourth installment of Gordie Howe Week here at Third String Goalie.

Prior to the 1977-78 season, with their four year contracts with the Houston Aeros having  expired, all three Howes, Gordie, Mark and Marty, moved en masse to the New England Whalers where Gordie's streak of 20 goals or more would extend to his 27th season between the NHL and WHA combined, as he would score 34 times to lead the Whalers in goals, as well as points in 1977-78 at the age of 49.

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The Howe family, including wife and mother Colleen, wearing special
customized Whalers jerseys for their contract signing with New England

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Gordie had lost none of his feistiness despite being 50 years old

He would just miss out on extending the streak again in 1978-79 by the slimmest of margins at the age of 50, when he scored 19 while being limited to 58 games, his first season of less than 60 games since 1949.

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Mark, Marty and Gordie with the Whalers in the WHA

Howe would play one final season with the Whalers, now renamed he Hartford Whalers as one of the conditions of their entry into the NHL. That season was marked by several memorable moments, including being named to the 1980 NHL All-Star Game by coach Scotty Bowman. Howe, Phil Esposito and Jean Ratelle, all stars of the game at the end of their careers, skated out onto the ice at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit alongside the youngest to ever play in the game, 19-year-old Wayne Gretzky, who idolized Gordie as a youngster.

Howe was given a tremendous standing ovation by the Detroit fans which lasted so long that he finally had to skate to the bench in an attempt to stop the cheering. When he collected an assist on an insurance goal in his side's 6-3 win, the ovation by the fans in Detroit was once again long and heartfelt.

Howe's 15 goals that season would make him the first NHL player to score 800 goals and he would finish his career with a final total of 801, making his final professional total 975, thanks to his 174 goals while in the WHA.

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Howe played one final season back in the NHL in 1979-80

The durable Howe went out in style, playing in all 80 of the Whalers games during his final season, with his last game coming on April 11, 1980 at the record setting age of 52 years, 11 days.

Or so we thought...

Seventeen years later, Howe would skate one shift in the IHL's Detroit Vipers home opener on October 3, 1997 at the age of 69, making him the only player whose career spanned six decades. Prior to the game, Howe quipped, “I think this is it, but if I get three tonight I’ll be back!"

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Howe mixing it up during the only shift he played for the Vipers

Over the course of his lengthy and productive career, Howe was a 4 time Stanley Cup champion, a 6 time Art Ross Trophy winner, a 6 time Hart Trophy winner, a 2 time Avco World Trophy champion, a WHA MVP, and a 2 time WHA All-Star.

He was named the recipient of the Lester Patrick Award and the Lionel Conacher Award. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, had his #9 retired by both the Detroit Red Wings and Hartford Whalers and was given the NHL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

He holds records for Most NHL Regular Season Games at 1,767, Most Games for a Single Team (1,687), Most NHL Seasons Played at 26, Most Goals by a Right Winger (801) and Most Points by a Right Winger (1,850), Most Points by a Father/Son Combo (2,592), Most Consecutive 20 Goal Seasons with 22, First Player to Reach 1,500 NHL Games Played, Most Times Leading the NHL Playoffs in Scoring (6), Oldest NHL Player at 52 years, 11 days, Most NHL All-Star Game Appearances with 23 and finished in the top five in league scoring 20 consecutive seasons and is the only player to have played in five different decades, all of which earned him the well-deserved nickname "Mr. Hockey".

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Today's featured jersey is a 1977-78 New England Whalers Gordie Howe jersey. Their original green road and white home 1972-73 WHA jerseys featured a "W" with a harpoon in a circle, which was simplified to just a larger "W" and harpoon for the Whalers second season of 1973-74 plus the addition of gold trim to their green and white colors. Those jerseys survived relatively unchanged for the remainder of their days in the WHA.

Upon entering the NHL, and undergoing their name change from "New England" to "Hartford" a condition demanded by the Boston Bruins, the club modernized their jerseys, debuting a clever new logo of a "W" topped off by a whale tail, with the negative space creating a subtle "H" for those clever fans who studied it long enough. The addition of blue trim made for an attractive set of jerseys, still topped off by the "Pucky the Whale" shoulder patches, worn since day one in the WHA.

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New England Whalers 1977-78 jersey photo NewEnglandWhalers1977-78Bjersey.png

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1978-79 New England Whalers Gordie Howe jersey. This white home jersey was worn during the seventh and final season of the WHA.

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photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1979-80 Hartford Whalers Gordie Howe jersey. Upon entering the NHL, and undergoing their name change from "New England" to "Hartford" they club modernized their jerseys, debuting a clever new logo of a "W" topped off by a whale tail, with the negative space creating a subtle "H" for those clever fans who studied it long enough. The addition of blue trim made for an attractive set of jerseys, still topped off by the "Pucky the Whale" shoulder patches, worn since day one in the WHA.

That set of jerseys underwent some minor changes in striping, plus an experiment with the controversial Cooperalls in 1982-83, and the elimination of "Pucky the Whale" in 1983-84, but remained essentially the same basic jersey until the 1992-93 season, when a radical redesign saw the road jerseys no longer green for the first time in club history, as blue was the new main color.

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Hartford Whalers 1979-80 jersey photo Hartford Whalers 1979-80 B.jpg

In today's video section, first the introductions to the 1980 NHL All-Star Game when Howe got such a memorable ovation by his fans in Detroit.

Next, the 69 year old Howe laces them up one final time for the Detroit Vipers to become the only player to play in six decades.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Gordie Howe Week - The 1970's - Out of Retirement with the Houston Aeros

With the passing of hockey legend Gordie Howe last Friday, we pay tribute to one of the greatest players in hockey history, today with our third installment of Gordie Howe Week here at Third String Goalie.

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Gordie in the early 1960's with sons and future teammates Mark and Marty

The Houston Aeros of the WHA were originally slated to play in Dayton, Ohio, but never got off the ground, so owner Paul Deneau moved the club to Houston, Texas in time for the inaugural World Hockey Association season of 1972-73.

The Aeros, led in scoring by Gord Labossiere's 96 points in 78 games, had a cast of inexperienced journeymen players with an absolute minimum NHL experience, unlike other teams like the Quebec Nordiques, who could boast of long-time Montreal Canadien J. C. Tremblay or the Winnipeg Jets star Bobby Hull. Still, the Aeros finished second in the West Division and qualified for the playoffs and won a round before their season ended.

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The inaugural 1972-73 Houston Aeros

Things changed, and in the biggest way possible, for the 1973-74 season. The Aeros had signed brothers Mark Howe and Marty Howe to a pair of four-year, $400,000 contracts in early June of 1973 and two weeks later, they lured the boys' father and NHL legend, the 45-year-old Gordie, who had already been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame following his retirement from the Detroit Red Wings after 25 seasons back in 1971. It's safe to say that Howe's 1,687 games of NHL experience was greater than the rest of the Aeros roster combined. His return to the ice made him the first player to ever return to action after being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"My only regret is I'm sorry I'm not the Gordie Howe I was ten years ago to fulfill the goals the Aeros have in store for me. It's not too often an individual gets a second chance and that's what the Aeros have given me," Howe said. "A chance to play with my sons."

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Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe together in Houston

Gordie had surgery to improve his arthitic bad wrist and relished the opportunity to play with his sons. The elder Howe's well-earned reputation for toughness ensured that his son's would have plenty of time and space to learn their craft professionally, as any player who laid a big hit on Mark or Marty was sure to be paid back with interest by Gordie at the first available opportunity!

Gordie immediately led the team in scoring with an even 100 points, good for third place in the league, as the Aeros had the best record in the league by 11 points. Additionally, Gordie was also named the league's Most Valuable Player in 1974, a trophy that would be renamed in his honor in 1976 - while he was still an active player! In the playoffs that season Houston swept the Jets in four and survived an all out war with the Minnesota Fighting Saints in six games to advance to the Avco Cup Finals.

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Ted Taylor and Gord Gallant battle it out during the
memorable Aeros vs. Fighting Saints 1974 playoff series

Once in the finals, the Aeros swept the Chicago Cougars in four straight, giving the Aeros their first WHA title and Howe his first championship since back in 1955 with Detroit.

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The WHA Champion 1973-74 Houston Aeros

Following the overwhelming success of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada's NHL professionals versus the Soviet Union, a second attempt to catch lightning in a bottle happened in 1974 when the best players of the WHA took on the Soviets.

During 1972, Howe was in retirement and did not participate, while Bobby Hull was blacklisted for having jumped from the NHL to the WHA at the time, but both featured in the 1974 edition. Also, wherever Gordie went, so did Mark and Marty, who where both also on the Team Canada roster.

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Summit Series.jpg
Howe and Hull share some thoughts during the 1974 Summit Series

After starting out with a tie and a 4-1 win, Canada looked to be competitive with the Soviets, but the last six games saw the Soviets win 4 with a pair of ties, giving the Soviets the series 4-1-3.

The 1974 Summit Series would be Howe's only international competition of his career. He would finish fourth in tournament scoring with 3 goals and 7 points in the 8 games of the series.

The original expectation in 1973 was that Gordie, who also signed a four-year contract, would play one year and then move into the team's front office. That was not to be however, as Gordie returned for a second WHA season. While Larry Lund led the club with 108 points, Gordie duplicated his output from the season prior with 99 points while Mark contributed 76 points from the blueline after 79 the year before.

The Aeros again won the West Division with the league's best record by 14 points and dispatched the Cleveland Crusaders in five and the San Diego Mariners in four prior to sweeping the Nordiques in the finals to defend their title and become the first repeat winner in WHA history.

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The back-to-back champion Aeros pose with the AVCO Cup

Howe would once again lead the Aeros in scoring in 1975-76 with 102 points, 26 clear of his son Mark and Frank Hughes, but would only place 10th in the scoring race in the now wide-open WHA. Still, the Aeros were a solid all around team and once more led the league in regular season points with 106 points. The gap was narrowed to the rest of the league however, as Winnipeg tied them with 106, coming on one less win, and the Nordiques just two back at 104.

The battle tested Aeros knocked out the Mariners in six and the New England Whalers in seven, the first time anyone went the distance with Houston, to return to the finals for the third season in a row. The high powered Jets won a pair of one goal games in Houston and pulled away to win a pair of games back at home in Winnipeg to end the Aeros reign as league champions.

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Howe keeping a close eye on the action

The following season saw Gordie limited to 62 games and 68 points, yet once again the Aeros had the best regular season total for the fourth year in a row after the arrival of the Howe family. After defeating the Oilers in round one, the Jets once again ended the Aeros championship aspirations in six games in the semifinals in what would be his final game with the Aeros, as the Howe's contracts had now ended and they moved to the New England Whalers for the 1977-78 season.

The addition of the Howes to the WHA in 1973 gave the league a huge boost in credibility and exposure while allowing the legend of "Mr. Hockey" to continue to grow.

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The once retired Howe spent four seasons with Houston

Today's featured jersey is a 1973-74 Houston Aeros Gordie Howe jersey. This classic jersey combines a vintage font running diagonally across the front in the time-honored manner paired with a simple striping pattern topped off with a star on each shoulder proving less is more when it comes to an effective and timeless hockey jersey.

We have seen a number of different variations for Gordie Howe Aeros jerseys, including his full name on the back with serifed letters as seen on today's featured jersey, "G. HOWE", also using the same serifed letters, and finally his full name on the back with standard, sans-serif block letters.

Research indicates that the "G. Howe" variation was from the pre-season of Howe's first year with Houston, meaning all genuine Howe Aeros game worn jerseys should have his full name on the back.

Houston Aeros 76-77 jersey, Houston Aeros 76-77 jersey
Houston Aeros 76-77 jersey, Houston Aeros 76-77 jersey

Bonus jerseys: Today's bonus jerseys are the trio of Mark, Gordie and Marty's 1973-74 Houston Aeros jerseys all pictured here together.

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photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a Team Canada 1974 Summit Series Gordie Howe jersey. Oddly, the jerseys worn by the Canadians in 1974 did not have the players names on the back, and instead all read "INTERNATIONAL", unlike the 1972 Team Canada jerseys, which all had "CANADA" rather than the player names.

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Canada 1974 Summit Series jersey photo Canada 1974 B jersey.jpeg
photos courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's video section has plenty of great footage and begins with a thoughtful Gordie discussing playing with his sons at the age of 50.

Next, a look at Howe and some of the hard hits and successes he had with the Houston Aeros, including rare footage of him with the Avco World Trophy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Gordie Howe Week - The 1960's - The Milestones

With the passing of hockey legend Gordie Howe last Friday, we pay tribute to one of the greatest players in hockey history, today with our second installment of Gordie Howe Week here at Third String Goalie.

How opened the decade of the 1960's by continuing the dominating form her showed throughout the 1950's, as, following his 28 goal, 73 point season, Howe would be named the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league MVP for the fifth time overall and third time in four years.

During the 1960-61 season, Howe registered an assist in a 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs to score the 1,000th NHL point of his career on November 27th, 1960, becoming the first player in the 44 year history of the league to reach the 1000 point milestone, doing so in just his 938th game.

It would be another eight years before Jean Beliveau would become the second to reach 1,000 points and another 20 years before Howe would score his final point, keeping in mind that he already had 14 years in the league behind him at this stage, which would be a good career for the average player.

Howe celebrating becoming the first player
in NHL history to score 1000 points

On March 14th, 1962, Howe beat the New York Rangers Gump Worsely to become only the second player to ever reach 500 goals in the NHL.

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Howe on the occasion of his 500th NHL goal

Early in the 1963-64 season Howe would surpass Maurice "Rocket" Richard when he scored his 545th goal on November 10, 1963 to become the NHL's all-time goal scoring leader when he beat the Montreal Canadiens Charlie Hodge at the Detroit Olympia in front of his thrilled home fans.

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Howe surpasses Richard for the career goal scoring record

At the conclusion of the 1962-63 season, Howe captured the Art Ross Trophy for the sixth time with a league high 86 points on his way to winning the Hart Trophy for the sixth time as well.

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Howe poses with the Ross and Hart trophies in 1963,
having just won each of them for the sixth time

Howe would score his 600th NHL goal in a game versus the Montreal Canadiens, coincidentally on the same date he scored his 1000th point three seasons earlier, November 27th, becoming the first player in NHL history to record 600 goals. It would not be until 1972 that Bobby Hull would become the second to reach 600.

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Howe became the first player to score 600 NHL goals

On December 4, 1968 in Pittsburgh, Howe would reach the 700 goal plateau in a 7-2 win over the Penguins. When Howe reached goal number 700, his closest challenger was Richard at 544, but he posed no threat, having retired eight years previously.

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The milestones kept falling for Howe in the 1960's

In 1968-69, aided by the recent NHL expansion to 12 teams which created a longer schedule of games against some admittedly weaker opponents, Howe achieved his one and only 100 point NHL season with 44 goals and 58 assists for 103 points. His 103 points that season placed Howe third overall in the league, extending his remarkable streak to 20 consecutive seasons of placing in the top five in overall scoring.

While his 71 points in 1969-70 were only good for ninth in the NHL, bringing his 20 year streak of top five placings to and end, it was still enough to lead the Red Wings in scoring, one ahead of Frank Mahovlich.

Similar to his remarkable record of durability in the 1950's, from 1959-60 to 1968-69, Howe would play in 696 of 704 games, including 7 seasons without missing a game.

Howe rarely missed a game while with the Red Wings

Howe would play one final season with Detroit in 1970-71, playing in 63 of 78 games, his lowest total since 1948-49 thanks to a chronic wrist problem. Additionally, Howe discovered he was just the third highest paid player on the team after his 103 point season, which led to a conflict with the team, but he did earn a more than 100% salary increase to to $100,000, but even that came at a price for his relationship with the organization when they blamed Howe's wife Collen Howe for the demand.

Additionally, the Red Wings missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons as they had entered the era of the Dead Wings and would only make the playoffs just once over the next 12 years. Thanks mainly to his wrist problems, Howe would retire from the NHL following the 1970-71 season at the age of 43 and take a job with the Detroit front office.

At the time of his retirement, Howe led the NHL in Games Played, Career Goals, Career Assists and Career Points, having won the Hart Trophy 6 times, the Art Ross Trophy six times and the Stanley Cup four times. The Red Wings wasted little time retiring his #9 on March 12, 1972. Also that same year, Howe became only the sixth player to have the mandatory three year waiting period waived by the Selection Committee and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on June 7, 1972.

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The Red Wings retired Howe's #9 in March 1972

Today's featured jersey is a 1965-66 Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe jersey from the season Howe scored his 600th NHL goal. When the NHL expanded from six teams to 12, Howe enjoyed an offensive renaissance given the chance to play against the weaker expansion clubs. After four seasons of scoring less than 30 goals, 1967-68 saw him leap up to 39 goals followed by 44 more in 1968-69, tied for his third best season of his professional career, which began in 1946 and lasted all the way to 1980.

While Detroit's red sweater dates back to 1932, the Red Wings did not wear a white sweater until 1934 to wear in games against the Montreal Canadiens. The white sweaters were originally simply a reverse of the red sweaters - all white including white sleeves with red bands around the arms and waist - and did not get its contrasting red sleeves until 1961, making the Red Wings white jerseys, now unchanged for over 50 years old, the "new" one.

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photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1970-71 Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe jersey. 1970-71 would be Howe's final season with the Red Wings. This classic style has been used by the Red Wings essentially unchanged since 1932 when the Detroit franchise first adopted the name "Red Wings" after previously being known as the Falcons and the Cougars.

Only detail changes have occurred over the years as this sweater has endured to become a timeless classic.

photo courtesy of Classic Auctions
Today's video section begins with highlights of Howe in French scoring time after time against the Canadiens.

Next is an excellent tribute to Howe from the TSN Network in Canada.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Gordie Howe Week - The 1950's - Championships and Trophies

With the passing of hockey legend Gordie Howe on Friday, we felt just one post was not enough to pay tribute to one of the greatest players in hockey history, so today we begin Gordie Howe Week here at Third String Goalie.

Howe, born in 1928 as one of nine siblings, began to play organized hockey when he was eight years old and grew to six feet tall by the time he reached his mid teens. He attended the New York Rangers training camp in Winnipeg at the age of 15 and was offered a chance to sign with the Rangers organization, but did not feel their development plans for him were a good fit and returned home for the 1943-44 season. 

Late in 1944, he was noticed by a Detroit Red Wings scout and invited to their camp, where he impressed the Red Wings Jack Adams, notably with his ability to play ambidextrously. Sticks in those days all had straight blades and Howe could shoot left handed and then switch his stick to the other side for a forehand shot from the right as well.

He would play limited games with the Galt Red Wings of the Ontario Hockey Association in 1944-45 and then spend the 1945-46 season with the Omaha Knights of the United States Hockey League where he raised the Red Wings hopes with 22 goals and 48 points in 51 games.

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The 1945-46 Omaha Knights, Howe's first professional team

Howe made his NHL debut in 1946, wearing #17 and, in 58 games, scored the first 7 goals of what would become a record setting career, including scoring a goal in his first game on October 16, 1946. 

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A 1946-47 Red Wings roster showing Gordon Howe wearing #17

Not at all confident that he'd stay in the big leagues for long, Howe kept a scrapbook of his first year in the league as future proof that he had actually played in the NHL! Despite his limited number of goals, Howe, at 200 pounds, was one of the larger players in the league and threw his weight around as he never backed down from a fight. Howe was tested by none other than Maurice "Rocket" Richard during his first game in Montreal and furthered his reputation by knocking Richard out with one punch.

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A young Gordie Howe

Howe changed to his iconic #9 at the start of the following season of 1947-48 for the purpose of a more preferable sleeping berth on the train while the team was traveling, as the accommodations were more spacious in the lower berths and were allocated based on each players sweater number. Howe later recalled "We traveled by train back then, and guys with higher numbers got the top bunk on the sleeper car. Number 9 meant I got a lower berth on the train, which was much nicer than crawling into the top bunk."

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An early shot of Howe wearing his famous #9,
chosen simply for better sleeping conditions

The next season gave little indication of what was to follow, as he scored 16 goals and 44 points in 60 games. While limited to just 12 goals in 40 games in 1947-48, Howe was teamed with new linemates Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay.

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The Production Line of Abel, Howe and Lindsay
celebrating one of their many successes

The trio would be dubbed "The Production Line" and would dominate the NHL and lead Detroit to first place in the regular season standings for each of the four seasons they played together from 1948-49 to 1951-52, a span that would include a pair Stanley Cup Championships in 1950 and 1952.  

So dominant was the line that they finished first, second and third in league scoring in 1949-50, led by Lindsay's 78 points in 69 games with Abel at 69 points and Howe with 68, 24 more than he had ever had before.

Howe would not be around to lift the Stanley Cup in 1950, having suffered a fractured skull when he crashed into the boards after trying to check the Maple Leafs Teeder Kennedy earlier in the playoffs, which required emergency surgery to relieve the pressure.

A smiling Howe convalescing following his skull fracture in 1950

Howe would return to form the following season of 1950-51, scoring 86 points to win the scoring title by 20 points over his nearest competition, Montreal's Richard, the first of seven times he would win the Art Ross Trophy. Howe's 43 goals and 43 assists led the league in both categories and his 86 points were also a new NHL single season scoring record, surpassing Herb Cain's seven year old mark of 82.

A Gordie Howe rookie card from 1951-52

He would equal his own scoring record of 86 points in 1951-52, this time with a new personal best of 47 goals to again lead the NHL. Detroit would then win the Stanley Cup by sweeping the Toronto Maple Leafs and then Montreal to become the first team to go undefeated in the playoffs since 1935.

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The Stanley Cup champion 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings

With league leading totals and new personal bests of 49 goals and 46 assists in 1952-53, Howe not only led the NHL in scoring for the third straight season as he set a new single season scoring record of 95 points, raising his own mark by 9.

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Gordie with his brother Sid Howe of the Rangers

Although his point total dropped by 14 points in 1953-54 to 81, Howe won his fourth consecutive Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader thanks to a league leading and new personal best of 48 assists. The Red Wings would to on to defeat the Maple Leafs in five games before an epic seven game final against the Canadiens. Detroit led the series 3 games to 1 before Montreal came back to force a Game 7, which was won by the Red Wings in overtime for the third championship of Howe's career.

Although he missed six games in 1954-55 after playing in ever game of the previous five seasons, Howe still finished in the top five in overall scoring. He was fully healthy for the playoffs though, and Detroit went back-to-back by winning the Stanley Cup as Howe led the team in playoff scoring with 9 goals and 20 points in 11 games.

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After leading the team in playoff scoring,
Howe with his fourth Stanley Cup in 1955

He would finish second in scoring to Jean Believau in 1955-56 with 79 points before once again leading the NHL in points with a league best 44 goals on his way to 89 points for his fifth Art Ross Trophy in seven seasons.

Howe would close out the decade with finishes of 4th, 4th and 5th with point totals of 77, 78 and 73. 

Before the 1958-59 season, Howe was named the captain of the Red Wings, a position he would hold through the 1961-62 season.

Gordie Howe Red Wings Captain photo Gordie Howe Red Wings Captain.jpg
Howe was named captain of the Red Wings in 1958

Also during the 1958-59 season, Howe administered one of the worst beatings during a fight in the history of the NHL to the New York Rangers tough guy Lou Fontinato, who had led the league in penalty minutes in both 1956 and 1958. While Fontinato was an inch taller than Howe at 6' 1", Howe was thick as a brick and 20 pounds heavier at 205.

During the Rangers game against the Red Wings on February 1, 1959, rookie Eddie Shack had been riling up the Red Wings as the Rangers built a 4-1 lead over Detroit. Tiring of his antics, Shack was cut by Howe to the tune of three stitches, which caused Fontinato to warn Howe to "lay off Shack and keep your stick to yourself." Howe and Fontinato already had a history together, as Fontinato had already split Howe's lip and taunted him in a previous game after which Fontinato nearly had his ear taken off by Howe in retaliation later on, as Howe had a reputation for never forgetting and always settling the score no matter how long the wait for the right opportunity.

When, later in the game Shack was in a scrap with Detroit's Red Kelly, Howe joined the fight to help out his teammate Kelly and put Shack in his place when Fontinato came looking for Howe. Fontinato wasted no time in unleashing a fury of punches on Howe. Unfortunately for Fontinato, Howe remained conscious and was now incensed. He grabbed Fontinato's sweater with one hand and fired back repeatedly with the other. Howe connected with his first punch, which stopped Fontinato in his tracks. Howe's arm was described as "working like a piston" and the sound of his fist hitting Fontinato face again and again in rapid fire made a permanent impression on those who heard it - as well as Fontinato's face - with most descriptions of the blows comparing it to the sound of an axe chopping wood.

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Howe and Fontinato during their infamous fight

Detroit's Lefty Wilson was quoted as saying "With every blow you could hear something break - squish, squish. Finally, the Rangers Andy Bathgate jumped in and stopped it."

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A wounded Fontinato is separated from Howe following their fight

Howe described the incident in his own understated way, "He was coming like a madman. It took me a while to get the gloves off and then things were busy."

Fontinato was left with a severely broken nose, now located a fair distance from it's original location. One of the linesmen described it as the worst beating he had ever seen anyone take, which came as a shock to all, as Fontinato was reportedly yet to have lost a fight, including having defeated other noted tough guys Richard and Fern Flaman.

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Fontinato after his encounter with Howe

Fontinato actually finished the game, but needed surgery to get his face back in working order, while Howe had actually dislocated a finger against Fontinato's skull while suffering a cut over one eye.

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The fight was even documented with an article in Life magazine

Howe dominated throughout the 1950's, accumulating championships and individual awards, winning the Stanley Cup four times in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955, the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion five times from 1951-1954 and 1957, and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league MVP four times in 1952, 1953, 1957 and 1958. From the 1949-50 to 1958-59 season, Howe played in 688 of a possible 700 games, missing only 6 games in 1954-55 and 6 more in 1957-58 as he played in every game of the other eight seasons.

Today's featured jersey is a 1954-55 Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe jersey. Howe and the Red Wings would win their third Stanley Cup of Howe's career following the 1954-55 season. This sweater can be traced back to that era by the lack of sleeve numbers, which did not appear until later thanks to the advent of television coverage.

Detroit Red Wings 1955-56 jersey, Detroit Red Wings 1955-56 jersey
Detroit Red Wings 1955-56 jersey, Detroit Red Wings 1955-56 jersey
photos courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's video is the "Legends of Hockey" profile of Howe.

Here is an unusual find, Howe on the TV game show, "What's My Line?" being questioned by Hogan's Heroes' Colonel Klink Werner Klemperer and Soupy Sales. Howe's legendary toughness is apparent, as he is unfazed at being interrogated by a Nazi prison camp commandant.

Gordie tells Keith Olberman how hockey used to be and to respect your elders.


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