“Mr. Hockey” as he would later become known as, was born in a small community known as Floral, in Saskatchewan in 1928. A strong young kid, Howe first made an effort to join the New York Rangers, but suffered from homesickness at went home. He managed to stay and make a solid impression in the next year with the training camp of the Red Wings. Howe joined the Red Wings as an 18-year old kid in 1946. He was a bigger than average player, at six feet tall and about 205 pounds, but his strength was even more impressive. Howe’s first year was relatively unimpressive offensively, as he managed 22 points in 58 games. However, Howe’s aggressive playstyle intrigued fans. He went hard into the corners and never backed down. Established superstar Maurice Richard once challenged Howe with some angry words and a shove. Howe responded with a one-punch KO.
In Howe’s sophomore season, the 1947-48 season, he began to make a much larger offensive impact, as he became one of Detroit’s top scorers. Howe scored 16 goals and 28 assists for a 44-point season in 60 games. Howe was selected to play in the 1948 All-Star game as a result of his stark improvement. Despite playing in just 40 games in the 1948-49 season, Howe improved again, totally 37 points. He would take that improvement into the 1949-50 season with a full 70 games, scoring a career-high 35 goals and 68 points. Howe finished third in the NHL’s point-scoring race, behind only his line-mates, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay.
During the 1950 playoffs, Howe was involved in a serious injury. Chasing after Ted Kennedy, Howe was surprised when Kennedy came to a sudden stop, and Howe went flying head-first into the boards. Howe was out cold and rushed to the hospital. Many thought Howe might not live through the ordeal, but after the doctors performed surgery to release the pressure from his skull, Howe managed to persevere. While Howe missed the rest of the playoffs, his teammates were motivated and managed to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs, ending their run of consecutive Stanley Cups at three.
Howe returned to the NHL in the 1950-51 season in peak form. In fact, to simple say that would be an understatement. Howe returned to the NHL in dominant form. Howe led the NHL in goals with 43 and tied for the assist lead with 43 assists as well, setting a new NHL record with his 86-point season. Howe was by far the best player in the NHL, though he finished third in Hart voting to Milt Schmidt. He did, however, win the honours of making the First Team All-Star, beating out Maurice Richard for the first time in his career.
Howe’s endurance was incredible. Despite playing with such vigor, he knew when to play intense and when to relax. As a result, Howe often played over 40 minutes in a game, when the average player played around 25 minutes.
In the 1951-52 season, Howe showed that his dominant 1950-51 season was no anomaly. He again scored 86 points, this time with a league-leading 47 goals, and was this time rewarded with the Hart Memorial Trophy. Howe would lead the NHL with 7 points in 8 games as the Red Wings swept their way to another Stanley Cup.
Amazingly, Howe pushed records even further in the 1952-53 season. Howe scored 49 goals, the closest any player had been to The Rocket’s 50 goals, and pushed the point record all the way up to 95 points. Second place in the scoring race was his teammate Ted Lindsay with 71 points. For three consecutive seasons, Howe was by far the best offensive player in the NHL. At this point, the three best single-season point totals in NHL history all belonged to Howe (86, 86, and 95 points). Herb Cain’s 82-points from the high-scoring early 40s was fourth.
In the 1953-54 season, Howe channeled his play-making side, scoring “just” 33 goals, but hitting a career high with 48 assists, leading the league in that category, as well as leading the league with his 81 points, for the fourth season in a row. Howe’s Red Wings would win the Stanley Cup for the third time in Howe’s career in 1954. In 1954-55, Howe’s number would dip and he would miss 6 games to injury. Despite this, Howe still managed to finish 5th in scoring with 62 points in 64 games. Howe made up for his regular season blip with a strong playoffs, leading the NHL in goals with 9 and in points with 20 points in 11 games. Howe’s strong play would help lead the Red Wings to another Stanley Cup, the fourth of Howe’s career.
Howe’s numbers would swoop back up in the 1955-56 season, as he 38 goals and 79 points in 70 games, good for 2nd in the NHL behind only Jean Beliveau. In the 1956-57 season, Howe’s number launched back up to the top of the charts, leading the NHL with 44 goals and 89 points in 70 games, winning Howe the third Hart of his career. Howe missed another six games in the 1957-58 season, but still finished fourth in scoring with 77 points in 64 games. Howe won a fourth Hart trophy, tying him with Eddie Shore for the record at the time. It was also in this season that Howe began to cut down on his frequent fighting from his earlier years, an effort to preserve his energy and lengthen his career. Howe had a career low 40 PIMs.
At some point while Howe’s fighting frequency dropped, tough-guy defenseman Lou Fontinato took it upon himself to rile the legend up. Eventually in 1959, Howe took it upon himself to put Fontinato in his place in a fight with a well placed fist to the “honker” of Fontinato. Howe broke Fontinato’s nose and jaw that night, and perhaps also his confidence.
In the 1959-60 season, Howe set yet another record with his 5th Hart Memorial Trophy win, becoming the player with the most Harts in his career. It was in this season, that Howe would surpass Richard as the player with the most points in a career, a record he would hold all the way until Wayne Gretzky finally surpassed his totals. Howe would have two more solid seasons before having one final truly dominant year in the 1962-63 season. Howe was now 34 years old, but showing no signs of slowing. He led the NHL with 38 goals and 86 points, winning his 6th and final Hart Trophy. Despite never again winning another Hart trophy, Howe remained a consistency dangerous player on the ice placing third in Hart voting for three consecutive seasons.
Even as Howe approached his late 30s, he remained one of the NHL’s best consistently finishing in the top five scorers. As the NHL expanded to 12 teams in 1967 and the level of offense rose, Howe’s numbers rose as well. In the 1967-68 season, Howe eclipsed the 80 points mark again with 82 points in 74 games. In the 1968-69 season, at the age of 40, Howe surpassed 100 points for the first time in his career, scoring 44 goals and adding a career-high 59 assists for 103 points. He was one of three players to do so for the first time in NHL history in the 1968-69 season, Bobby Hull and Phil Esposito being the other two. Howe finally fell out of the top 5 in scoring in the 1969-70 season, but still finished at 9th with 71 points in 76 games. Howe missed more than 10 games in the 1970-71 season as his arthritis kicked in for his hand, causing him to retire at the age of 42. Howe was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972, after the usual mandatory waiting period was waived for him.
Howe would return with his sons, Mark and Marty to play with the Houston Aeros of the WHA in the 1970s, sometimes even on the same line. Despite playing in his mid and late 40s, Howe was still a very formidable player in the WHA. When the WHA folded in 1979 and several teams moved to the NHL, Howe, then with the New England Whalers, would follow them to the NHL for one final season, at the incredible age of of 51. Despite his age, Howe still managed a remarkable 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games in the 1979-80 season. Howe would play in the All-Star game held in Detroit where he would receive many loud cheers and ovations from the fans.
Howe retired at the end of the season just after turning 52 years old and was the record holder for an incredible number of records. He was the all-time record holder for games (1767), goals (801), assists (1049), and points (1850). Arguably Howe’s most incredible record, is that he remained among the NHL’s top five scorers for 20 consecutive seasons. Most players don’t even play for 20 seasons, never mind be one of the best offensive players for 20 seasons. Howe also won six Art Ross trophies and six Hart Memorial Trophies. To this day, Howe is still fourth all-time in points and second all-time in goals. His record of games is still the all-time record. Mr. Hockey remains a legend in the hearts and minds of hockey fans everywhere.