, ,

I’m repeating something I wrote here nine years ago about one of the greatest nights of my childhood.

Me, my dad, my cousin and Gordie Howe.

Howe died last night. We are not likely to see anything like him again and I wish my boys could have seen the way he played the game. The word “great” is used too easily these days. Howe really was great.

I remember . . .

Sept 18, 2007

A pretty quiet evening, after a not great day of sleeping in, traveling illegally on GO Transit and watching our corner of Toronto go black.

But during the evening a friend forwarded me an email for a fundraiser, where you bid on lunch with “your NHL hero.”

Among the names on the list are Doug Gilmour, Guy Lafleur, Wendel Clark, Lanny MacDonald and Bob Probert. Or you could bid on a vacation in the Dominican Republic with Paul Coffey, Dave Shultz, Dave Hutchinson (who?), and again, Bob Probert.

As enticing (and entertaining, I’m sure) as cocktails with Bob Probert might be, I think I’ll pass.

If I had to pick lunch with an NHL legend, it would be a no-brainer. Gordie Howe.

In September 1968, I was a little younger than Chris is now and the Habs were scheduled to play an exhibition game in Halifax against the Red Wings. Getting to see a game like this was so far from being a possibility that honestly, it never even occurred to me that I’d get to go.

My dad stood line for a long time on his lunch (and then some, I suspect) to get Standing Room Only tickets for him, me and my cousin Michael.

I was in the backyard, firing pucks at the rock wall behind our house, when he came home early from work and told me we were going. I think the British use an expression — gobsmacked. It’s a good word. I was utterly gobsmacked at that moment. Astonished and speechless.

I had been following the considerable pre-game hype for some time and I knew that Gordie Howe was not expected to play because of injury. I did a book report the year before on Gordie Howe and among my peers considered myself to be something of a scholar on all matters related to Mr. Hockey — his signing bonus with the Red Wings was a team jacket. He was born in Floral, SK. His wife’s name was Colleen. He almost died in a 1950s game when Leaf legend Ted Kennedy drilled him into the boards head first. And he was the meanest piece of work on skates, and the best scorer.

So, while the game was no great masterpiece it was NHL hockey at the Halifax Forum and it was a very big deal to us. Gordie Howe was nowhere to be seen.

And then, early in the third, the big Number 9 hopped the boards and played. He played maybe two or third shifts and I never took my eyes off the guy. I remember being impressed by all the things he did when he didn’t have the puck. A smart guy might have learned a lesson there, but I was just a kid.

Anyway, it felt to me like Gordie Howe played those shifts just for me, and in a way he did. Me and all the other kids — young and old — who came out for a chance to see a real life hero.

Montreal won 4-1. Yvan Cournoyer scored twice. Gordie Howe played.

I’d buy Gordie Howe and my dad lunch anytime for the memories that night gave me.

Years — decades even — later I was at game four of the Leafs-Sens series in 2001, the year the Leafs swept the Sens. Patrick was with me. There aren’t many things from the last 40 years for Leaf fans to high-five about, but that game was one for sure.

That night in 2001 reminded me of my night in 1968, if only because I knew my kid would remember it forever.

Me too. On both counts.