This past week I had the privelage to be able to talk to recenlty inducted into the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame Mark Howe. Mark Howe is the son of hockey legend Gordie Howe, and brother to Marty Howe. Early in Mark’s professional career he was blessed with the rare oppurtuntiy of not only to be able to play with his brother Marty, but also his father Gordie. The Howe’s won 2 Avco Cups in the WHA playing togther.
Some of the things Mark shared with me, growing up in the Howe household, playing in this years Winter Classic Alumni game, to his Hall of Fame induction speech.
Art: What was it like growing up in the Howe household as a young boy?
Mark: Like any other “normal” household I imagined. I had a father who worked as a hockey player and a mother who took care of raising the children. She got us to school each day, fed us meals and got us to our activities. She was a busy woman. Us 4 children were very lucky to have her as a mother. Dad chipped in when he could, but mom carried most of the burden of raising the 4 children.
Art: I thought your Hall of Fame induction speech was one of the best I have seen ever. How long did it take you to writeit? Did anyone else know that you were planning to honor your father the way you did by putting on his hockey jeresy?
Mark: I took out my pen on a flight from Philadelphia headed to Tampa to scout a game. I had been thinking about who I wanted to thank and who I wanted to mention in my speech since I first got the call from the HHOF back in late June. The speech was easy to write as my thoughts were consistent on who to mention. The tough part was trying to maintain my emotions and tears on the plane while actually doing the writing. I just wrote from my heart. The cast of characters made my speech writing easy. FInished it in about 1.5 hours. My son Travis, my brother Marty and my friend Sharon were the only ones to know about the jersey. I used Sharon to help with any corrections in the speech. Marty and Travis only knew of the jersey because I need them to locate a “prop” for me to use. They had no idea what I was going to say. Also Kelly Masse of the HHOF knew of the jersey as did the TV production crew as we had to turn in our speeches prior to the induction for better TV preparation.
Art: In 1972, you won the Olympic silver medal in Japan as a 16 year old playing for the United States. What was the experiance like? In what way, if any did it help your hockey career?
Mark: 1972 was an great learning experience for me both as a young man and as a hockey player. Basically I was just a young 16 year old kid. Robbie Ftorek was my roommate for much of the time I was away. 2 weeks in Minnesota, 10 days in Denver, 1 week in Tokyo and 2 weeks in Sapporo. Also spent time with Dick McGlynn and Stu Irving, all 3 were from Boston area. The experience was awesome. Just think back to when you were 16. I got to travel 1/2 way around the world and play hockey representing my country. I also go to miss 2 months of school. My teachers were great to me. I had my lessons given to me before I left and then had oral reports and tests to take when I got home. As far as hockey was concerned, I found out how good the Russian’s, Swede’s and Czech’s were at hockey. All this was just before the 72 Series between Canada and Russia. The results and closeness of that series were no surprise to me. Robbie used to take me to watch games on our off days. He was a tremendous help to me throughout my entire Olympic experience.
Art: Can you share with the readers of Penguin Poop any advice that your father might of given you in regards to your professional hockey career?
Mark: Let your children learn how to play hockey through their own experiences. Support them and be there for them if they want and ask for help. Over all the years of my father watching me play and also the 7 years we played together as teammates, he only passed along 4 or 5 unsolicited tips to help me out. And those tips were about life and had nothing to do with hockey directly. When I asked for help or advice he would pass along his knowledge to me and then let me learn to apply it on my own.
Art: You were blessed early on in your professional hockey career in with a rare oppurtunity to be able to play professional hockey with your brother Marty and your father. What was that like?
Mark: My brother and I played on the same team for most all of years growing up, so playing together as pro’s wasn’t anything new. Playing with Gordie was the real experience. At first he had a difficult time coming out of a 2 year retirement. By the end of training camp, he was incredible. He was 45 years old and clearly the best player in the league. His endurance, stamina and strength were beyond anything I had ever seen and remember he was 45 years old. He was extremely talented, but could also be a down right “nasty” if he needed to be. He had a tremendous respect from all his opponents and it was a respect that was earned from putting a major hurt on a number of players when he deemed it necessary to do so. Let’s just say he would have been suspended for a long time under today’s rules.
Art: Any regrets during your hockey career?
Mark: No regrets. Wished I had won a Cup as a player though. Won 2 Avco Cups in the WHA with Marty and Dad. Won 4 Cups as a scout with Detroit and it is awesome to be a part of that as an organization, but it’s not the same as being in the action sweating, bleeding and laying it on the line with the guy sitting next to you. Well, I guess I have one regret. I wish I had been allowed to be there when my children were born. I was skating in warm up in Edmonton when my son Travis was born and was on my way to the rink in Toronto when my daughter was born. Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, we weren’t allowed to miss a game for such things. Thank goodness I was at home when my son Nolan came into my life.
Mark: I played with many “greats” in Philly. Also had a few “greats” in Hartford playing with Dave Keon & Bobby Hull. Pelle was just starting to come into his own when he suffered his tragic auto accident and lost his life. Quite a loss for our team and for his family. He was a super nice person and always had a smile on his face. Looked just like a “little Bernie”. Tim Kerr was an awesome goal scorer and he suffered the loss of his wife while giving birth. We happened to be in Pittsburgh that day. It was my saddest day in hockey. They had just adopted 2 very young children and now with a new born. I don’t know how Timmy managed to get through it, but thank goodness he did. Brian Propp was also a very good hockey player in all areas of the game. Another one of the many we had that never really gets enough credit for his abilities. Also played a bit with Bill Barber and Bobbie Clarke at the end of their careers. Learned a lot from them. Brad “the Beast” was my best friend from hockey. As different as we were in so many ways, we were like twins in others. Both on and off the ice we had a certain bond that was hard to explain, but something that would never be broken. Were were always there for each other all these years both on and of the ice. I had a few other very good partners like ex Pen Kjell Samuelsson, but the chemistry I had with Brad was very unique. Our instincts on the ice were always on the same page as was our commitment to each other both at practice and during the games. We had a plus/ minus rating of 190 (each) over a 3 year span. Numbers that are hard to beat.
Art: Favorite NHL city to play in?
Mark: I loved to play in the old Chicago stadium. The ice was fast, the boards were fast, the crowd was “jacked” during the national anthem and you got hit or gave a hits the first shift of every game. Not many “sleepers” were played in that building. The crowds were as loud as any I have ever heard. Just a great environment for a hockey game.
Art: What was it like having to play defense in the NHL against some of the greatest players to ever play the game? Players such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Did you have a strategy in playing in playing against them?
Mark:The strategy playing against almost everyone in the league was the same. Wayne and Mario were the exceptions to the rule. That’s why they were the best players of my era. You would make certain adjustments against them that would work, but by the next period, they were doing something else to counter act your adjustments. It was an endless struggle and they managed to come out ahead most of the time. I won the battles sometimes, but more often than not, they would get the best of you and even embarrass you at times. But it was an honor to have them as my assignment most every game we played against each other.
Art: The city of Pittsburgh is finally tearing down The Civic Arena. Do you have any memories that you can share with me in regards to playing there?
Mark: My 1st memory of the Igloo was when I was just a kid and the NHL had expanded to 12 teams. The Red Wings trainer had the flu and couldn’t make the trip so I got to come to Pittsburgh as a stick boy for the Red Wings the first year of expansion. Does anyone remember the performance Mario put on during the 88 playoffs against the Flyers? Believe he had 6 or 7 points or maybe even 8 in one of the games at the Igloo in that series. If you missed it, shame on you. We couldn’t stop him that game. Wasn’t fun being part of it that game, but very memorable for me remembering what he did that game. Incredible performance.
Art: Mark, what were you doing when you were notified about your Hall of Fame induction? Who was the first person you told?
Mark: I was driving my car when I got the call from the HHOF. I was stunned. Couldn’t wait to call my dad. Then Marty, my 3 children and Sharon. Very emotional day.
Art: Mark, will it ever get old writing the inscription “HHOF 11” after your name when someone wants an autograph?
Mark: It still doesn’t seem real to me. I am just thankful that my father was there at my side. As great an honor as it is, it wouldn’t have been the same without him. Not having my mother there was bad enough as she put far more time into my career than anyone else in my life.
Art: What was it like playing in this year’s Winter Classic Alumni game in Citizens Bank Ball Park?
Mark: I hadn’t skated in 5.5 years before having to skate at the HHOF game as my back gives me fits and lots of pain when I skate. I managed to get through that OK as it only took me 2 weeks to get the numbness out of my feet caused from my back. But playing in the Winter Classic was different, my 1st grand baby was to be born any minute and I promised my daughter Azia that I would do my best to score a goal for her baby / my future grand daughter Ella. I pushed myself extra that day and my body rebelled mightily. It took me almost 4 full weeks to get the feeling back in my right foot and to finally stop taking Celebrex. I got my goal for Ella, I got to be on the same ice with some old friends and a few new ones like Bernie Parent, I got to enjoy walking into a stadium filled with 46,000+ fans, I got to play against some old foes and against Mark Messier one more time. My body has paid a price, but if asked to do it again, I would do it in a heart beat. What a wonderful experience. The class shown by the Rangers alumni and Ron Duguay in particular speaks volumes’.
I want to thank Mark Howe for agreeing to come on to Coffee Talk and letting me bring this interview to Penguin Poop readers and I want to thank Hersh Borenstein President of the Frozen Pond Inc.for helping me set this interview up.