Mark Howe

Make no mistake: Mark Howe was not Gordie Howe, his legendary father. But Mark too was a great player.

Gordie Howe was a fearsome physical presence and a goal scoring machine. Mark Howe was one of the steadiest, cleanest and most accomplished players of the 1970s and 1980s.

Mark, born in Detroit where his Canadian father played for 25 years, was member of the U.S. Olympic silver medal-winning team as a 16-year-old in 1972. He followed that up by moving to Toronto where he played junior hockey with the Marlboros. Howe led the Marlies to the Memorial Cup championship, leading the way with 4 goals and 8 points in the 3 game finals.

Mark, and his brother Marty (who also played on the Marlies championship team), jumped to the pro ranks in 1973-74 when they signed with the WHA's Houston Aeros. Coming out of retirement was father Gordie in one of the most remarkable comebacks in sporting history. The father and his two sons played on the same line - a highlight of each players career.

Mark certainly wasn't as robust or physical as his legendary father, but then few ever have been. Mark instead relied on a high skill level. He was a constant scorer and playmaker in the WHA. He relied on his strong hockey sense and puck handling skills

In 1978-79 the Howes left Houston after 4 years and joined the New England Whalers where the trio starred for 2 years before the WHA folded as a league. When the remaining teams of the defunct WHA merged with the NHL, Mark's value to the renamed Hartford Whalers became obvious as he was claimed as a priority selection by the team. Former WHA teams were allowed to keep only two players and the remainder were placed into a league wide dispersal draft.

Howe played primarily as a left winger in Hartford, but by 1981-82 he was playing more and more on the blue line. He would play the rest of his career on defense. Playing on the blue line really brought out the best in Howe. His vision of the ice plus his elite intelligence allowed him to control the game like a quarterback.

Howe suffered one of the worst injuries in hockey history on December 27, 1980. Late in the third period Howe crashed heavily into the goal cage and impaled himself on a metal post at the center of the net. The post is no longer used, thanks to the injury. Howe was taken away on a stretcher, treated in hospital for a deep laceration to his left thigh and buttock. The puncture narrowly missed the base of his spine. Had his spine been effected, Howe almost certainly would have never been able to play again..

Howe played three seasons with Hartford before being moved to Philadelphia in a blockbuster of a trade. It was with Philadelphia that Mark would have his best years. Converted permanently to defense from forward, Howe became one of the best defenders of the 1980s. While he never actually won the Norris Trophy, he was routinely among the top candidates for the best defenseman in the league standings, finishing runner up three times.

The transition to defense was Mark's proudest achievement. Very few players in NHL history have had a career let alone a star career split between a forward and defense position. Blessed with excellent skating, speed and agility, Howe's defensive approach was definitely more finesse than physical. His uncanny ice vision and tremendous passing allowed him to control the game. He added a valuable dimension to a physical Flyers defense - he provided the ability to rush the puck out of the zone or make a beautiful break out pass.

Backed by Howe's composure and great hockey sense, the Flyers became the NHL's best team in the East during the middle years of the 1980s. Unfortunately for Howe and his teammates, the Western half featuring the Edmonton dynasty was stronger and the Flyers didn't win the Cup while Howe was there, despite two memorable Stanley Cup final showdowns with Edmonton in 1985 and 1987.

After 10 fine seasons with Philadelphia, the two parties went different ways in 1992. The Flyers felt that Howe was at the end of his career as back injuries limited him to just 101 games in the previous three seasons. In fact Howe had back surgery in 1991 and was told not to play anymore as doctors feared for his health. Howe persisted and signed with the Detroit Red Wings, helping to solidify a young blue line. However the Detroit Red Wings were willing to bring Mark home. Fulfilling a childhood fantasy, he would play for the team his father made famous for the next three seasons, although he continued to miss lots of time with back injuries.

Howe retired in 1994-95. He scored 197 goals, 545 assists and 742 points in 929 NHL games, plus another 61 points (10 goals, 51 assists) in 101 post season affairs. Mark added 504 points in 426 WHA games.


Michael Poplawski 4:41 PM  

I believe Mark Howe is the most deserving hockey player outside of the Hockey Hall of Fame, probably ignored due to the bad luck of playing part of his career in the second major league (WHA), being the second-best defender in the NHL (behind Ray Bourque) and being second to the Edmonton Oilers on two occasions in the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps the best combination of skill and sportsmanship I ever witnessed.

Anonymous,  2:16 PM  

I had the honor of watching the Howe's play for the New England and Hartford Whalers. I was at the game in 1980 when he slid under John Garrett and impaled himself on the net. I never saw so much blood and thought he was a goner. (Sec. 119 row p seat 4). I grew up a Bruins fan, but my parents had season tickets to the Whalers. It was real sports history to see a fater play at the pro level with his sons. Thank you to the Howe family, they are first class.

Anonymous,  8:40 PM  

Mark Howe is simply the most underrated player in the history of the NHL. I don't say that without much consideration. Howe's style made him consistently be considered just behind either Ray Bourque, Rod Langway, and (inexplicably) Paul Coffey. The fact that he didn't win the Norris Trophy in 85 and especially 86 is criminal.

I say that his style hurt him because he didn't have a big shot, but scored a lot of goal, he couldn't bang like the big defenseman, but could muscle anyone off the puck and take it away. He just got the job done, every shift. His plus/minus numbers were incredible. Even as his body started to wear down late in his career, the Flyers were a different team when he was on the ice.

While I have all of the respect in the world for Ray B. I think that Mark Howe was the best defenseman of the 1980's, and maybe the best all time.

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