NHL Dictionary: Gordie Howe Hat-trick

Image Courtesy of totalprosports.com.

Image Courtesy of totalprosports.com.

T his week’s NHL Dictionary term is “Gordie Howe hat-trick,” which means one goal, one assist and one fight. If all you want is the literal definition, now you’ve got it. Go forth in peace, and we’ll see you in this space next week.

If you’d like some context though, gather ’round and let’s speak in hushed, reverent tones about one of the greatest, most skilled, toughest and dirtiest players ever to take the ice.

Before there was Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin or Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky, there was Gordie Howe. We’re not going to get too bogged down by statistics here, because… well, because that’s boring. If you want the full numerical picture, look here. Still, there are a few numbers you need to know: Howe played major-league level hockey (in the NHL and the WHA, a rival league that merged with the NHL in 1979) for a total of 32 seasons between 1946-1980, during which he scored 1,071 goals and 1,581 assists and amassed 2,419 penalty minutes (regular season + playoffs).

Image courtesy of home.comcast.net.

Image courtesy of home.comcast.net.

Yes, you read that right: 32 seasons. For reference, that’s one year longer than Kate Middleton has been alive. Gordie Howe’s career lasted long enough to birth a king, and it actually did something akin to that when you consider that Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky cites Howe as his childhood idol.

Make no mistake – Gretzky was no Howe. While Gretzky was a point-producing machine, Howe was by far the more complete player, a true power forward who was more than willing to throw his body around. Sometimes he did that by fighting but more often he did it in the course of play, often in a way that was less than legal. Howe’s primary nickname is “Mr. Hockey” (a title so fully his, that he has it trademarked), but his secondary moniker is “Mr. Elbows.” And while he hasn’t trademarked “Mr. Elbows,” Howe owns  the title proudly enough that it gets matter-of-fact mention on his official website*. If Howe played today, he’d be a regular visitor to Brendan Shanahan’s office.

As it was, Shanahan actually spent a good deal of time in Howe’s territory, notching 17 Gordie Howe hat tricks during his playing days while Howe, ironically, is believed to have had only two.** There’s a certain beauty to that, though – just as Howe’s dirty play is now thought of as quaint, cagey toughness, the accomplishment that bears his name is more homage than historical record. It helps that the 85-year-old Howe still remains engaging and gracious with fans, making it that much easier to see the longtime high-scoring thug as the revered elder statesman he has become.

And then there are those point totals, which only grow more impressive with time. Jaromir Jagr, one of the elite scorers in NHL history, just notched his 1,700th regular-season point – which leaves him more than 650 shy of Howe’s 2,358. That this eye-popping number only tells part of the story explains why Howe has a statistic named after him while Gretzky, who has Howe beat by more than 600 regular-season points, does not. Howe was the definition of a three-dimensional player; if anyone deserves to have his own special hat trick, it’s Mr. Hockey.

*Howe’s site is well worth a visit, not least of all because it contains a page devoted to Colleen “Mrs. Hockey” Howe, Gordie’s remarkable late wife.

**The Gordie Howe hat trick is not an official statistic, and it wasn’t formally tracked at all until The Hockey News took on the task in 1996, so trying to determine the all-time record in this department is folly. Still, Shanahan’s 17 and Howe’s 2 are both widely accepted numbers, and have the NHL.com stamp of approval.

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