What happened to the puck? "Who knows," said Howe. "Those days we didn't keep the puck until No. 100 [which Howe did not score until Feb. 17, 1951]. Nobody bothered to save the first one for the rookies then.
"Actually, the first night was pretty much like every other night for me. I drove over with Couture and McNab and ate dinner at Carson's restaurant, which used to be across the street from the Olympia on Grand River and McGraw. Hamburger, I think. I didn't figure I'd get to play much, so I wasn't especially nervous. I remember standing there during the national anthem, counting to myself, '15-2, 15-4, 15-6,' trying to figure out how to score a cribbage hand. The older guys were teaching me the game, and they moved the pegs so fast up and down the board that it confused me."
The first of Howe's parade of more than 700 NHL goals came at 13:39 of the second period of the October 1946 game with the Leafs. Sid Abel took a pass from Adam Brown, fired a shot, and Howe put the rebound under the Leafs' goaltender, Turk Broda.
In 23 seasons Howe was to score 731 more times against 52 NHL net minders and helped set up no fewer than 954 teammates' goals with assists.
"I may not remember much about the goal I scored that first night," Howe recalls, "but I've got a couple of souvenirs. I lost two teeth. One got knocked out when I caught an elbow in a corner, and another went dead after that game and I had to have it pulled. But, what the heck. Every hockey player loses teeth.
"That first night I'm on the bench and Jack Adams shouts, 'Syd, Syd, get in there." Nobody moves and he's furious. Finally, he looks right at me and shouts it again. "I'm not Syd,' I told him, but all Adams says is, I don't give a damn, get in there anyway.' "
You can mark it down in your hockey books that within two years a forward named Howe will be playing for the Detroit Red Wings, and he won't be Syd Howe. He'll be a rightwinger named Gordon Howe.
But to most people Gordon Howe was just another tough kid from the prairies. Who could tell then that he might emerge as the most prolific scorer in the history of the game, greater even than the lengendary Maurice Richard; that his life and career would be prodded and probed by mass media the world over; that he would be the only hockey pro to bridge the gap between Glenn Miller and Tiny Tim, between zoot suits and microminis.
At first Howe wore No. 17 on his jersey. "I liked 17," he says, "because I'd worn it at Omaha, where I'd been a real flash, but our trainer, Carl Matt-son, told me I should take No. 9 when Roy Conacher left because it meant I would get a lower berth on the trains. We didn't fly much then."
After Saturday's game, when Howe's 24th opener was just another line-to-be in the eight pages his record occupies in the Red Wings' press book, Gordie stripped off his jersey and stood in the center of the dressing room looking for all the world like Dorian Gray—a 41-year-old man with the body of a 25-year-old. There was a large red lump on his left collarbone where he had stopped a shot late in the game.