TORONTO - One of the biggest obstacles to Mark Howe making the Hall of Fame was that his famous father has been there almost 40 years.
Not that it bothered Mark, but it would take something extraordinary to eclipse his dad’s accomplishments. In the end, more than 20 years of hard work in the pros, attention to detail and an ongoing career as a scout brought him the lasting recognition of Hall membership.
“I don’t consider myself in the Bobby Orr class,” said Mark, who was trimming the hedges in his yard when the call came from the Hall’s selection committee. “A lot of people such as (New Jersey Hall of Fame broadcaster) Mike Emrick lobbied for me a long time.
“This is a tremendous honour. I called my kids and then my dad and I just teared up.”
Howe and brother Marty took full advantage of their father’s celebrity as young boys, getting on the ice when the Wings were practising at the old Detroit Olympia.
“We picked teams and (veteran Wing) Dean Prentice scored a hat trick against me. He said ‘son, you better learn how to play defence.’”
Mark made the 1972 U.S. Olympic team as a 16-year-old, helped them to a silver medal and played one memorable full year of junior with brother Marty on the OHA Marlies. They were a star-studded team under the loose reins of coach George Armstrong that would win two straight Memorial Cups.
“My brother and I had played together every year of our lives,” Mark said. “Being in Toronto, every day you stepped on the ice in that building (Maple Leaf Gardens), there was that much electricity. I was determined to be an NHL player and that was a stepping stone to the NHL.”
But fate had other plans. At the urging of Mark’s late mother Colleen, Gordie came out of retirement to play with his boys on the WHA Houston Aeros. Mark, then a winger had a 79-point season and was WHA rookie of the year.
Mark also joined his father with the Hartford Whalers when they made the NHL jump in 1979, going back on defence. He spent most of the 1980s with the Philadelphia Flyers, then brought it full circle to his Detroit roots before retiring in 1995. He is still with them as a scout.
“Growing up with that Red Wings’ logo ... and then I had the opportunity of going to Detroit and (playing for) the Ilitch family,” Mark said. “After I retired, dad asked why I had not taken his number (9) down off the rafters to wear it. Had he not said it, I wouldn’t have thought of it.”