Howe times have changed

Former NHL great Gordie Howe appears at the 2007 NHL All-Star Trading Card and Memorabilia Show in...

Former NHL great Gordie Howe appears at the 2007 NHL All-Star Trading Card and Memorabilia Show in Dallas, Tex., Jan. 21, 2007. (RONALD MARTINEZ/Getty Images)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:33 AM ET

CALGARY - Gordie Howe is showing off a permanent lump on his right hand, recalling the details of one of countless slashes he absorbed during his Hall-of-Fame career.

The deed didn’t go unreturned, though.

Still a story-teller at 83, Howe pauses for a moment then pokes a reporter on the chin.

“He got it right here,” he said with a grin.

There’s a reason they called him Mr. Hockey, not Mr. Nice Guy.

Howe, the only guy to skate a shift in the pro hockey ranks in six different decades, remains as famous for his elbows and his scoring touch.

The six-time Hart Trophy winner ranks third in NHL history with 1,850 points, but he also racked up 1,685 penalty minutes, good for 91st — just behind Wendel Clark — on the all-time list.

One of his lasting legacies is the Gordie Howe hat-trick — the feat of scoring a goal, adding an assist and dropping your mitts for a fight all in the span of one game.

As Howe pointed out Thursday without even a hint of guilt, “You can’t behave on the ice.”

These days, you have no choice.

Ironically, the all-time leader in Gordie Howe hat-tricks is now the NHL’s chief disciplinarian, and Brendan Shanahan has been busy handing out bans for head-shots and other illegal hits.

It makes you wonder whether a guy like Howe could get away with any of his old tricks in what they call the ‘new’ NHL.

“He was a tough man, but there’s no chance he could play in today’s game,” said Mark Napier, who spent a decade in the big leagues and is now the president of the NHL Alumni Association.

“Back then, a lot of games weren’t televised, and if they were televised, they only had one camera. Gordie used to wait for the referee not too look, and he’d pop a guy and knock him out cold, right? Now, they’d have three cameras following him around, and Gordie would be suspended every second game. He’d have to conform to the new rules himself.

“Back then, all the guys were tough. They did have one or two enforcers — like John Ferguson — but if you couldn’t look after yourself back in those days, you couldn’t play. They all were tough guys, and they could look after themselves.”

On Thursday, Howe made a pit-stop in Calgary to promote the second annual ScotiaBank Pro-Am, a fundraising hockey tournament that raises awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease. Howe’s late wife, Colleen, had a form of the illness.

The on-ice contingent for the April 13-15 tournament in Calgary — one of four ScotiaBank Pro-Am events planned across the country — will include former Flames stars Theo Fleury, Lanny McDonald and Gary Roberts plus retired tough guys Marty McSorley and Tiger Williams skating with city recreation squads.

He won’t skate, but Howe is the undisputed headliner. Even at 83 — and 31 years removed from his last NHL contest — he remains one of the most recognizable faces in the hockey world.

According to the former Detroit Red Wings star, it wasn’t always that way.

“Nobody knew you (back when I played early in my career), because TV wasn’t around, so when they’d see you in the doorway, they’re pulling out pictures,” Howe recalled. “When you’d walk into Toronto, from Yonge Street down into the arena itself, you’d see people going through the pictures, looking and then running for an autograph. When TV came along, it really introduced hockey.”

That’s not the only thing that has changed.

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca


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