Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Howe enters Hall of Fame on humbling notes

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Magazine

You might think that Mark Howe, the newest former Philadelphia Flyer to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, might introduce the meat of his speech by dedicating a few words to his family, his former teammates, or his famous father.

But the 56-year-old kicked off his time at the podium in downtown Toronto last night by addressing a situation that has been largely ignored: that of compensation for the victims of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air tragedy, which occurred on September 7 and claimed the life of the club’s head coach and Howe’s former teammate, Brad McCrimmon.

“I hope the victims of this terrible tragedy receive full compensation for their losses, which is not the case at this time,” Howe began. “I find this morally upsetting. The families have lost their loved ones, they do not have to suffer financially as well. The hockey world should do all it can to make it right.”

Mark then introduced Maureen McCrimmon, Brad’s widow, who was seated near the front of the crowd.

“It makes my evening complete,” he added.

As the primary defensive pairing, Howe and McCrimmon were the bedrocks of the Flyers’ renaissance in the mid-1980′s under Mike Keenan, a time which saw the club vault to elite status once again after a brief downturn.

Howe racked up a plus-85 and McCrimmon a plus-83 during the difficult 1985-86 campaign, one in which the son of Mr. Hockey posted career numbers of 24 goals and 82 points. But life wasn’t all rosy for the most talented of Hockey’s First Family as the Flyers rose to prominence, and Howe made mention of that shortly after paying tribute to his former partner.

“Although I wanted to slash him a few times, I want to thank (Mike) Keenan for helping me to raise my bar.”

Under the man called Iron Mike, Howe was a three-time finalist for the Norris Trophy which honors the league’s best defenseman — but ultimately cast aside in favor of Edmonton’s Paul Coffey and Boston’s Ray Bourque, two contemporaries who simply put up more points each time.

But those were the peak years, before McCrimmon was traded to Calgary and injuries to his back severely cut into his playing time. When he arrived in Philadelphia in 1982, Howe was paired with pugilist Glen Cochrane, for whom fighting was more of a livelihood than learning how to play in his own zone.

And when McCrimmon left, the stork-like Kjell Samuelsson slid into place and the time it took for both men to acclimate to each other sadly occurred as the franchise endured its slide into mediocrity. But Howe honored them all, in the same breath, as part of his Philadelphia hockey experience.

Howe then paid tribute to a person responsible for his success that has not been as well known — his ex-wife, with whom he had three children: Travis, Azia and Owen.

“Although (she and) I have been separated for a number of years now, I would be remised not to thank Ginger for bringing the three kids into his world and the commitment she made to them as a mother,” he intoned.

After moving on to address his brother Marty, and joking that he was glad his other brother Murray became a doctor so he could spend his life repairing the damage that six combined decades of hockey did to their bodies, Howe ended with a poignant tribute to his mother, Colleen.

The woman called Mrs. Hockey had been suffering from a form of dementia for several years and passed away early in 2009.

And of course, the final words came as a tribute to his famous father, Gordie Howe, who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 1972.

“I guess there is one person left to thank in this building,” Howe said, looking a bit nervous as he momentarily looked up from his script. “I’m not going to thank you for being my line-mate for six years and I’m not going to thank you for elbowing the guy who may have taken a dirty shot at me. I’m not going to thank you for being the greatest hockey player ever. I want to thank you for being the husband, father and grandfather you are. You are the role model that led my life. I’m so proud to call you my dad.”

Mark revealed that Gordie said he wished just for one game he would have worn his famous Red Wings jersey — but only decided to tell him right after he retired from the Wings following the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals. He finally honored that request tonight, pulling the road red No. 9 sweater over his tuxedo to a standing ovation before leaving.

The night fittingly began with Howe’s induction, as he had waited the longest of the four players to be honored.

A native of Detroit and Silver medal winner with Team USA in 1972, Howe’s career ended more than 16 years ago, while Doug Gilmour’s last season was 2003, Joe Nieuwendyk called it quits in 2007 and Ed Belfour finally hung up the pads in 2008.

It was also fitting that Flyers captain and teammate Dave Poulin — who was in the audience and whom the camera panned toward on several occasions during Howe’s speech — gave the televised and taped introduction which preceded Howe’s words.

Also in attendance were most of the Flyers’ Hockey Hall of Fame enshrinees. Bob Clarke (1987), Bill Barber (1990) and Ed Snider (1988) sat conspicuously near the front of the stage. Only absent were Keith Allen (1992) and Bernie Parent (1984). Hart died in 1999.

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