Howe turning 80

Mr. Hockey is turning 80.

Gordie Howe waves to the crowd during an 80th birthday celebration at Joe Louis Arena before the Detroit Red Wings hosed the Nashville Predators on Sunday.

Mr. Hockey is turning 80.

Gordie Howe, a six-time NHL scoring champion who played 32 professional seasons, will celebrate his 80th birthday Monday surrounded by family and friends in Detroit.

It is another milestone in a lifetime full of them for the native of Floral, Sask., near Saskatoon, who was born March 31, 1928.

The Hall of Famer began his NHL career with Detroit when he was 18 in 1946-’47 and went on to play a record 1,767 NHL games and another 419 games in the defunct World Hockey Association.

He also played one shift of a game in 1997, when he was almost 70, with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League just to say he played in six different decades.

In his career, Howe won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player six times and was named to 21 all-star teams. He also finished in the top five in NHL scoring in 21 consecutive seasons.

Howe attended a New York Rangers try-out camp when he was 17, but got homesick and left. The following year, the ambidextrous Howe wowed the Red Wings at their camp by scoring two goals — one shooting right and the other left.

Early in his career, he was on the Production Line with centre Sid Abel, who would later be his coach, and left winger Ted Lindsay.

“Sid liked to coach and he just told me ‘When I’m in the corner fighting for the puck, I’d consider it a favour if you’d stay out somewhere in the middle of the ice so if I get it, I don’t have to look around where to pass it, you’ll be there,’ ” Howe recalled this week in an interview on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s weekly radio show. “I got my first goal that way.”

He went on to score 801 goals in the NHL — a record until Wayne Gretzky finally topped it with 894. He had another 174 in the WHA for a total of 975, which beats the 931 Gretzky scored in both leagues. Howe had 1,850 NHL points and 2,358 in all.

Gretzky grew up idolizing Howe and wore No. 99 in honour of Howe’s No. 9.

They were different players, though. While Gretzky used unparalleled vision and creativity to score, the six-foot 200-pound Howe was a feared physical presence along with being a superbly skilled player.

He once knocked out Montreal Canadiens star Maurice (Rocket) Richard with a punch, and some called him Mr. Elbows for his nasty battles for pucks along the boards.

In the 1950s, a New York sportswriter coined the phrase Gordie Howe Hat-trick — a goal, an assist and a fight — although Howe said it actually only happened once in his career.

After playing 25 seasons for Detroit, winning four Stanley Cups, Howe retired in 1971 due to a wrist ailment, but he returned two seasons later with the Houston Aeros of the WHL to play alongside his sons Mark and Marty. He moved to the New England Whalers in 1997 and finally retired for good when he was 52 in 1980.

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