Mr. Hockey and The Greatest

That debate will rage forever and depends on your definitions of what it means to be the best

These losses seem to happen in bunches and they are not happy occasions.

In 1946, a big strapping winger from Saskatchewan played his first season in the National Hockey League. Gordie Howe had an OK first season, but he didn’t win the rookie-of-the-year award. That honour went to Toronto Maple Leafs forward and current French Creek resident Howie Meeker.

It’s about the only award Howe didn’t collect in a career that spanned five decades and made him the greatest hockey player ever, before a youngster named Wayne Gretzky from Brantford, Ont., wearing number 99 in honour of the man named Mr. Hockey, grabbed that mantle.

Or was it Bobby Orr?

Don’t forget Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard.

That debate will rage forever and depends on your definitions of what it means to be the best.

Gordie Howe died last week at the age of 88, roughly a week after the death of the world’s most famous athlete of all time, Muhammad Ali.

On the surface, one could not find two more different men than Howe and Ali. You would never see Gordie Howe on TV, trashing his opponent or boasting he’s The Greatest.

Howe was a humble, gentle man off the ice, happy to speak to everyone, taking time to speak to children or reporters or fans. He set the bar high and to this day, of all the athletes in major professional sports in North America, hockey players remain the most respectful and humble. Mr. Hockey set that standard.

The stories — like the time not a decade ago he jumped behind the bench to help coach a group of eight-year-olds at a Lower Mainland rink and spent more than an hour after the game chatting with the youngsters and their parents — are numerous and have been relayed this past week.

At least two things link Howe and Ali, other than their athletic greatness. First, their ferocity in the ring or on the ice.

Howe was a tough customer, to put it mildly, during an era of many tough customers. His elbows remain legendary and many would say you could see his face visibly change from the nice, gentle soul to fierce competitor the moment his skates hit the ice.

Ali was known for the quickness and movement and athleticism never before shown by a heavyweight boxer. That made some forget just how tough a man he was, how hard he could punch and how much pain he endured.

Second, these men both devoted much of their retirement to helping the less fortunate of society. They truly cared. They really wanted to help people. Rest in peace Mr. Hockey and The Greatest. The world is a little emptier without you.

 

By John Harding, Black Press