I played hockey against Vern Howe — Gordie’s brother, while serving in our Canadian NATO Brigade in West Germany 1961. (I spent two NATO tours in West Germany in the ’60s). I had been posted to West Germany due to the NATO build up, because of the Berlin Wall Crisis. In August, Russian and American tanks had squared off against each other at Check Point Charlie, the main crossing point between East and West Berlin. During the Cold War, there were 155 serious incidents which could have started the Third World War.
I was posted the brigade head quarters, Vern Howe was posted to the brigade maintenance company at one of nine Canadian bases. We had heard about Vern Howe; by then his reputation was well known throughout the army. Most of us younger fellows had not met him; he had joined the army during the Second World War, then stayed in the forces as a career soldier.
Brigade hockey was a big deal in those days. A lot Canadian soldiers could have made the World Hockey League, a few could have made the NHL. The brigade area had four arenas. The local Germans loved Canadian hockey, often the games were sold out. Our coaches told us to “just enjoy the moment — don’t go into the corner with Howe with the intent to hit or injure him, if you do, he will punish you.” On the few occasions I went into the corner, I was just thrilled to be on the ice with Vern, I came close to rubbing shoulders a few times; when I did, with his glove, he would rub my glasses off my face, then smile and skate away.
Vern Howe was a wonderful skater, many people over the years said, ‘he was a better skater’ than Gordie. The passing of Gordie Howe this weekend was sad for all of Canada, some of us though, were fortunate to be able to play against the other wonderful hockey great — Vern Howe. Over the years there were a lot of ‘what if’s’ — Wouldn’t it have been wonderful, if Vern Howe, had returned from the war and played on any of the six original NHL teams?
Canadian Army retired,
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