Sunday Snippet: Gordie Howe (1928-2016)

“You’ve got to love what you’re doing. If you can love it, you can overcome any handicap or the soreness or all the aches and pains, and continue to play for a long, long time.”

Vancouver is a hockey town.

Sure, we have teams in other sports and they get their share of fan support, but for the people of Vancouver, hockey is different. It’s a part of our culture. Even if you don’t normally follow any professional sports whatsoever, you probably got caught up in Stanley Cup fever when the Canucks made their run in 1994 and more recently in 2011. Before any of that, there was Gordie Howe, a man who was far bigger than the sport he represented. He passed away last Thursday at the age of 88.

The professional career of “Mr. Hockey” spanned 26 seasons in the National Hockey League, the most of any NHL player ever, plus six seasons in the World Hockey Association. During that time, he was called up as an NHL All-Star 23 times, ranked among the top ten scorers for 21 consecutive years, won the Hart Trophy for the NHL’s most valuable player six times, and hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup four times.

To top it all off, he even has an unofficial achievement named after him. A “Gordie Howe hat trick” is when you get a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game. It’s no surprise that he is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, hockey player to have ever lived. But that longevity. His love for the game kept him in it for decades.

Howe made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings way back in 1946 and he wouldn’t retire until 1980 at the age of 52. To put that into perspective, the oldest active player in the league today is 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr. He might prove me wrong, but I can’t imagine Jagr lasting another eight years.

“You never learn anything if you’re the one talking.”

I find the above quote particularly poignant when you pair it with this one.

“The first time I met Wayne Gretzky… he never said anything back.”

Up until “the Great One” rose to prominence in the 1990s, no one came close to breaking all of Gordie Howe’s records. Today, to my knowledge, Gretzky still holds the record for holding the most records. I suppose he did a lot of listening.

We’ve seen the passing of many important and prominent figures in 2016. I just wrote about Muhammad Ali last week and I discussed the impact of Afeni Shakur not long before that. We’d be remiss to forget Prince, David Bowie, Garry Shandling and Dave Mirra too, as well as Kimbo Slice just last week.

But their legacies live on through their work, our memories, and the countless people they’ve inspired along the way. Thank you for everything, Number 9.