Then in December
1980 Howe sustained a grisly injury. In a game against the New York Islanders
in Hartford, he lost his balance and slid feet first into the Whaler goal. The
force of his skates hitting the netting in the back of the goal tipped up the
goalposts and the sharply pointed metal centerpiece of the goal frame. "As
soon as I saw the frame go up, I knew what was going to happen," says Howe.
His momentum carried him into the point of the centerpiece, which ripped
through his pants and penetrated several inches into his right buttock,
narrowly missing his testicles, anal sphincter and rectum. Despite the shock
and the pain, Howe had the presence of mind to push off against the netting to
free himself. (Since then, the league has recommended that the centerpiece be
shortened and blunted.)
Gordie, who was in
the stands, accompanied Mark to the hospital. "The doctor pulled the sheet
off him to show me the cut," says Gordie. "Meat was just hanging down.
I could've put my whole hand in there."
weeks later, Howe pronounced himself ready to play. But the toll of the
injury—a loss of 20 pounds and lowered strength and endurance—resulted in
Mark's going into what he calls "a good game followed by a bad game"
syndrome. He finished the year with just 65 points. Still below par at the
start of last season, Howe wound up with a career-low 53 points. To add to his
difficulties, Howe, a quiet and introspective person, was asked to assume the
role of a team leader. "I'm not a natural leader," he says. "I want
to lead by playing well. When they offered me the captaincy, I turned it
unwillingness to wear the C and his diminished effectiveness eventually drew
the ire of Coach Larry Pleau, and last August Howe was traded to Philadelphia.
Perhaps the best indication of how highly the Flyers regard him is that they
gave up top scorer Ken Linseman, a 1983 No. 1 draft choice and Forward Greg
Adams to get what Philadelphia General Manager Keith Allen calls "a
defenseman who ranks up there with the Denis Potvins and Ray Bourques."
It may seem odd
that Howe's highly polished skills—"My game is skating, passing and moving
the puck," he says—would be sought by Philadelphia, a team that
traditionally has specialized in on-ice muggings. But Howe, whom Philadelphia
Coach Bob McCammon calls "the best offensive defenseman we've ever had here
and a superb playmaker," is representative of the reforming Flyers. When he
took over last March, McCammon began fining players who took needless
penalties. McCammon emphasizes speed and playmaking. McCammon coaches Howe's
kind of hockey.
"Dad was mean
with those elbows, and I know he was a pretty good fighter," says Mark.
"But in Dad's day you were almost expected to fight your way into the
league. The emphasis today is much more on skating." Indeed, Mark didn't
take his first penalty this season until the 21st game. "He's not real
physical," says Flyer veteran Bobby Clarke, who is, "but he doesn't
have to be. He's so mobile he always gets a piece of you, just enough to throw
you off the puck."
At week's end
Philadelphia had won nine straight games and led the Patrick Division with a
26-12-5 record. During the streak, Howe scored a team-high seven goals. He also
got the Flyers' only goal in a 4-1 exhibition loss to the Soviet All-Stars last
week. In the nets for the Soviets was the peerless Vladislav Tretiak, who
allowed just four goals in four games against NHL teams.
On Dec. 5, before
a rematch between the Bruins and the Flyers at Boston Garden, WSBK's Peirson
recalled the previous meeting, saying, "Offensively he [Howe] just
dominated the game. It was the best we've seen him play." An interesting
and accurate assessment. It should become a more common one.