Part of Gordie Howe’s legacy has New England connection

Part of Gordie Howe’s legacy has New England connection

While it can sometimes be forgotten these days that the Carolina Hurricanes were once the Hartford Whalers, it isn’t lost on those that suited up for “The Whale” during their glory days in Connecticut. So, it was no surprise that Hurricanes GM and former Whalers forward Ron Francis paid his public respect to the Howe family on the day that Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, passed away at 88 years old.

The Hall of Fame legend is best known for his days winning Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, of course, but Howe also played for the WHA’s New England Whalers for two years, and then one season for the Hartford Whalers in the NHL in 1979-80. Howe turned an amazing 52 years of old that season with the Whalers, and posted 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, playing with sons Mark and Marty, in his final full season of professional hockey.

“Gordie Howe was a true legend in every sense of the word, and we are proud that he and his sons are a part of our organization’s history,” said Francis in a released statement. “I was lucky to have the opportunity to take the ice with him during my time in Hartford, and his impact on our sport is immeasurable.

 “The Carolina Hurricanes organization sends its deepest condolences to the Howe family and everyone affected by his loss.”

Gordie Howe played three seasons with the Whalers in the World Hockey Association (WHA) and the NHL from the 1977-78 season through 1979-80. He totaled 180 points (68 goals, 112 assists) and 178 penalty minutes for Hartford, and never played a full season of professional hockey again after that final season in 1979-80.

Howe won six Hart Trophies in his legendary NHL career, has four Stanley Cups while with Detroit, still holds the NHL record with an amazing 23 All-Star Game appearances, and is the only player to ever suit up for at least one professional hockey game in six different decades from the 1940s through the 1990s. Wayne Gretzky eventually broke Howe’s records for goals, assists and points in his amazing career, but Howe still holds the NHL record in two categories that will likely never be broken: most games played (2.421) and most games played (1,687) with the same team.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman paid tribute to Howe’s legacy with a lengthy statement on Friday and there’s little doubt the NHL will produce a moving tribute to Mr. Hockey prior to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in San Jose on Sunday night.

“All hockey fans grieve the loss of the incomparable Gordie Howe. A remarkable athlete whose mastery of our sport was reflected by the longevity of his career and by his nickname, ‘Mr. Hockey,’ Gordie’s commitment to winning was matched only by his commitment to his teammates, to his friends, to the Red Wings, to the city of Detroit and – above all – to his family,” said Bettman in a prepared statement. “His devotion to Colleen through her illness and the fact that he extended his playing days into a fifth decade so he could play with his sons are only two examples of that true priority in his life. Gordie’s greatness travels far beyond mere statistics; it echoes in the words of veneration spoken by countless players who joined him in the Hockey Hall of Fame and considered him their hero.

"Gordie’s toughness as a competitor on the ice was equaled only by his humor and humility away from it. No sport could have hoped for a greater, more-beloved ambassador. On behalf of the generations who were thrilled by his play and those who only know of his legend, and on behalf of all the young people and teammates he inspired, we send heartfelt wishes of condolence, comfort and strength to the Howe family and to all who mourn the passing of this treasured icon of our game.”

On a personal note, this humble hockey writer was far too young to remember anything of Howe’s career firsthand except for images of his final NHL season, and watching on TV as he suited up for the Whalers as a 50 plus year old man. He seemed more like a grandfather than a professional hockey player to me at six years old, but even then he could still play the game at a high level when the puck was dropped.

It was still stunning for anybody that loved hockey to see Howe out and about in NHL circles over the past 15 years as his health began to fail him. Just walking past him on the event floor of the Bell Centre at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal is one of the highlights of my career and something that immediately prompted me to call my dad about how cool it was to see Mr. Hockey in person.

While Howe might his finally passed, his legacy, from Gordie Howe hat tricks, to Mr. Hockey and to the generosity he showed as an ambassador to the game, will live on forever.


Morning Skate: Best all-time college hockey lineups

NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Best all-time college hockey lineups

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while welcoming in spring with open arms.


*Interesting exercise from ESPN putting together the best all-time lineups for a number of college hockey programs. We know about a lot of the powerhouse programs, but UVM could put together a pretty damn good lineup based on the players that have come out of the Catamounts program, including former and current Bruins Tim Thomas and Kevan Miller.


*Jack Eichel scoffs at the notion that his ankle injury should have caused the Sabres star to shut it down for the rest of the season.


*Nice work by Star Wars Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni to put together a Star Wars jersey again this season for the Wilkes Barre Scranton Penguins.


*Rob Rossi has got some major issues with ESPN the Magazine omitting Sidney Crosby from their Most Dominant Athletes of the last 20 years list. Yeah, I’d say that doesn’t make any sense. Not that anybody really cares about ESPN the Magazine or anything.


*Strange times with the CWHL as Cassie Campbell Pascal has resigned from her role as a CWHL Governor ahead of the league’s marquee weekend.


*The Golden Knights and Marc-Andre Fleury are both tied together in their rise toward the top of the NHL this season.


*For something completely different: Never before has a mustache been talked about as much as the CGI mustache for Henry Cavill in Justice League, and now it’s gone forever.


Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

It might have caused a ripple when Ryan Donato wasn’t on the ice on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis for Bruins practice on the day after his brilliant, three-point NHL debut for the Black and Gold. But the 21-year-old Donato was still back in the Boston area fulfilling some class requirements at Harvard University to help him close out the current semester properly, and not lose the credits that will keep him in line with fulfilling his junior year at Harvard University.

Believe it or not, the schoolwork is important to the newest member of the Boston Bruins and he intends to study and hit the books on his road trips, and also intends to take classes in the summertime to still graduate on time next season.

“I’m planning on finishing the semester academically. I want to finish the semester academically,” said Donato, after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to last night’s debut vs. Columbus. “Obviously it’s going to be something that’s difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. I’m putting that off a little bit, but I need to be able to finish this semester in order to have that opportunity, and not put it off for another couple of years. I want to finish out the semester.”

Donato is also still living in the Harvard dorms while “moonlighting” as an NHL hockey player for the rest of the season, but that isn’t all so uncommon among some of the college players that leave school early. Charlie McAvoy was similarly living in the Boston University dorms last spring through Boston’s playoff run, and didn’t clear out of his college living situation until after the Black and Gold had been eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last April.

Missing practices on an NHL schedule is certainly a new one with, Donato, however, and takes the student-athlete concept to a whole new level for somebody that's already turned pro. One has to expect this was one of the things being discussed in full when the Donato family, Ryan's agent and the Bruins discussed his contract terms over the weekend before coming to an agreement.

Along with Donato, who is scheduled to fly into St. Louis and play against the Blues on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, Rick Nash and Torey Krug were all missing from the ice at Tuesday’s team practice ahead of a four game road trip against Western Conference opponents.