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The best goal Gordie Howe ever scored, according to my Dad


Those who followed this site in its early days will know that my late father was no fan of long-time NHL and Detroit Red Wing great Gordie Howe.

As I’ve explained some of the "background" in earlier posts about Dad and Gordie, I won’t go into the details of why today.  Let’s just say Dad, who was born in 1910, was a huge (incredibly passionate is closer) fan of Maurice “Rocket” Richard and the Montreal Canadiens.  And Howe was Richard’s chief rival in the 1950s. (Many of you will know that Richard was the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a single season, a mark that was watered down somewhat  in terms of importance through the high-scoring 1980s, but has again become a significant milestone.  Anaheim's Corey Perry is the latest to join that exclusive group.)

Well, Gordie turned 83 just last week.  He remains one of the legendary names in the game.  He was revered, also feared, because of (for his era) a unique combination of skill, size and yes, mean-ness.

When I think of Gordie I can’t help but think back to the many nights I watched a Red Wing game with my Dad.

Their homes games were blacked out (we lived across from Detroit) and on occasion Dad would take me across the river to watch Detroit host the Habs or the Leafs on a Sunday night.  (Dad would sometimes get into it with the ever-loud, proud and boisterous Red Wing fans, but that’s a story for another day.)  So while home games were otherwise unavailable, we were able to see the Red Wings a lot in the mid-and later ‘60s and early ‘70s on the then “new” UHF (ultra high frequency, a big deal in those days) television station.  That station broadcast a lot of the Red Wing "away" games.

This particular night that I’m recalling, we were watching Detroit play at the old (then new) Spectrum in Philadelphia.  Dad often complained that Howe scored “all” his goals from the slot, that Gordie would just stand there get “cheap ones” after being fed the puck by linemates like the slick-passing Alex Delvecchio.

(Back as the ‘60s progressed and as Howe was getting slower but still piling up the points, Dad would complain that Gordie would probably “still be out there playing in his 50s…”, and would still score 20 goals a year just by standing in front of the net.  Little did Dad know how prophetic he was being. Howe played until he was 51, scoring goals to the end.)

Now, remember that Howe finished his NHL career with more than 700+ goals (a couple hundred more, I think, in the WHA).  So I’m pretty sure he didn’t score “all” his goals on shots from the slot. But I wasn’t about to challenge my Dad in my early years on his slightly biased oversight.  (I've included a great old picture above right of Gordie, taken moments after he scored career goal #545, breaking Richard's then all-time record.  Teammate Bill Gadsby, seen on the left, assisted on the marker.)

So this one night, we are watching an otherwise unspectacular game in the middle of the NHL regular season, in January as I recall.  I believe it was during the 1969-’70 season.  The Flyers had a very young Bobby Clarke, and were led by  two promising young goaltenders, Doug Favell and (future Hall-of-Famer and briefly a Maple Leaf) Bernie Parent.

Parent was in goal that night, as I recall.  At one point, Howe had the puck directly behind the Flyer net.  No one came to him--much the way Gretzky, years later, would set up shop and basically hold court behind opposing team’s net, because defenders were afraid to chase him.

Howe then proceeded to do something that I’d never seen anyone do before.  While standing with the puck and facing the back of the net while Parent waited for him to move one way or the other and pass the puck somewhere, Gordie simply feinted as though he was going one way, then went the other.  Essentially he made a quick gesture as though he was coming around Parent’s left, then with his long reach took a step and snuck the puck into the net quickly past Parent  along the ice on the goalie’s right-hand side.

It happened in a flash.  Howe had barely moved has feet and he scored a goal from behind the net.  But it was a beauty.

I normally expected (based on vast experience) Dad to be angry or have some kind of ticked off reaction to Gordie scoring an unsual goal.  He was always displeased when Gordie scored, even though Howe had long passed Richard’s all-time record of 544 regular-season goals.  But this time, as I kind of slowly looked over at Dad, I saw him put his hand to the top of his bald head, as he often did, pause, and say, “Well, I’ll give Gordie credit”.  He went to say what a smart play Howe had made, and what an unique goal it had been, and that it was the best goal he’d ever seen Howe score.

Dad had always grudgingly given Howe credit for being the best passer and receiver of passes in the game (at least before Orr came into prominence…Dad loved Orr, even though he played for the Bruins).  But he wasn’t much for giving anything to Howe, ever.  So for him to quietly concede Howe had done something, well, really good, was out of the ordinary, to be sure.  It wasn’t exactly life-changing for me but stands out to this day as, well, funny, more than anything.  It was a concession of sorts, though I found it ironic that Dad was claiming a goal Howe scored from behind the net was his “best” ever.

Oh well.  That was Dad, when it came to his hockey passion.  He wasn’t the most objective guy in the world.

Howe’s goal was indeed the result of a very unique move in that era.  Leaf fans remember Doug Gilmour’s splendid behind-the-net ‘spinorama’ move in overtime to beat Curtis Joseph in the ’93 playoffs,  and that was way more important and dramatic than Gordie’s quick little manoever.

But you just didn’t see wraparound goals much in the ‘50s and '60s, as I recall.  At least it was new to me at the time.

As for my Dad’s comment about how Gordie scored his goals, I just looked it up.  Gordie actually finished with 801 regular-season NHL goals, including his late career time with the Hartford Whalers when they joined the NHL for the 1979-’80 season.  It was well over 1,000 when you include the WHA and playoffs.

So Gordie finished his NHL career with over a thousand goals and Dad, a "Rocket" man all the way, liked exactly one of them.  Hey, the guy was loyal.

3 comments:

  1. Haha, this was a great story! Hearing of these milestones makes me wish I was around back then to experience the eras in person. I imagine hockey games were even more of a treat if you had to take a road trip to see them.

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  2. Thanks JJ...it really was a special time. Going over to the Olympia in Detroit as a little kid to see Howe, Sawchuk, Gadsby, Ullman, etc. was so neat. I think I've posted earlier about my first real "road trip" to "the big smoke" in Toronto when I was 12 during the 1964-'65 season to see the Leafs in person (Ron Ellis' rookie year). Wonderful memories.

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  3. Long suffering Leaf fanApril 9, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    Mike, really enjoyed the story...after watching the movie(which happens to be one of my favorite sports movies) "The Rocket" many times, I a have a deeper respect for Maurice Richard. An older gentleman that I know here in Tennessee, and is a big time Black Hawk fan said after watching the movie how the French Canadians were mistreated. He went on to say that it reminded him of how the Blacks were treated in major league baseball! I'm sure in the late sixties that the wheaties commercial with Gordie Howe going down his wing and stick handling around a Montreal defenceman to only tuck the puck in on the short side of the Canadiens goalie as he passed behind the net, must have made your Dad groan many times...I know it did my mom, who would say, "ya right! "What was funny about her comment was that she was a huge Leaf fan and hated the Canadiens.

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