He's helmetless as
he whirls around the Spectrum ice with his Philadelphia teammates in the
20-minute pre-game all-skate preceding the Flyers' first meeting of the season
with the Boston Bruins. Head high, face unsmiling, the speed of his movement
blowing his short, razor-cut blond hair back along his temples, the flushed
cheeks showing the first signs of jowls, the nose sort of Bob Hopeish, the
facial similarities are inescapable: Mark Howe, 27, looks not a little like his
father, Gordie, the most complete and enduring hockey player of all time.
with his father aren't on Mark's mind this night. He and his brother Marty, 28,
who plays defense for the Bruins, are about to oppose each other for the first
time as pros. As the television feed to Boston shows the predictable
split-screen, stop-action shot of the brothers, WSBK analyst and former Bruin
John Peirson offers the widely held appraisal of Mark. Peirson describes him as
a player with "a ton of talent but who has never reached the pinnacle some
people thought he would."
would seem to give short shrift to a player who has been voted an All-Star at
two different positions in two different leagues and who, despite an injury
that nearly ended his career, has averaged 66 points and 49 assists in three
NHL seasons. As a measure of Howe's overall efficiency, he had, as of Sunday,
the best plus-minus rating on the Flyers, a +23. He also ranked sixth among the
league's defensemen in scoring with 13 goals and 22 assists.
But when Mark's
considerable accomplishments are stacked up alongside his father's unparalleled
achievements—1,071 goals and 2,599 points in 2,421 games over a 32-year career
in the NHL and the WHA—Mark's attainments pale by comparison. Consequently, as
the more talented of Gordie Howe's two hockey-playing sons (the youngest Howe
offspring, 22-year-old Murray, is a student at the University of Michigan
Medical School), Mark has long been viewed primarily as a good man for keeping
his father's name alive.
"All the boys
felt the pressure," says their mother, Colleen, "but I think Mark,
because his talent was obvious at such an early age, felt it most deeply. Mark
always believed that if he succeeded in hockey, people would say it was because
he was Gordie's son, but that if he failed, the failure would be his
For his part, Mark
says he has come to grips with the father-son problem. "When I was growing
up in Detroit, Gordie Howe's name was, like, next to God's," he says.
"Anytime I was interviewed or introduced I was always 'Gordie's son.' I
suppose my brothers and I got used to it. But no matter what I accomplish in
hockey, people will still know me as Gordie Howe's son. I guess there are worse
things to be known as."
In the second
period of the Boston game, with the score 2-2 and Philadelphia on a power play,
Mark retreated deep into the Flyer zone to chase a puck the Bruins had cleared.
The standard move for a defenseman in that situation is to make an outlet pass
to the near-side wing or to take the puck behind the net and hold it for the
center. Howe did neither. Taking the puck, he accelerated up-ice and streaked
by both Boston fore-checkers as he bore down on Defenseman Mike Milbury. Howe
faked Milbury into leaning right, cut back the other way and then raced down
the slot and slid the puck under sprawling Boston Goaltender Pete Peeters.
performances have always been expected of Gordie's son. After all, he was
skating at age four, practicing in the Detroit Olympia after Red Wings workouts
at age six, joining his father and the other Wings in preseason training camp
at 13. At 16, Howe was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic hockey team that
won the silver medal at the 1972 Games. The next year he led the Toronto
Marlboros to the Canadian Junior A Championship. In the spring of 1973, Houston
selected the 18-year-old Howe in the first round of the WHA draft. When the
Aeros also picked Marty in the seventh round, Gordie ended his two-year
retirement to fulfill a dream of playing pro hockey with his sons.
Though Mark had 38
goals and 41 assists in 1973-74, was an All-Star at left wing and was named
Rookie of the Year, his achievements were all but eclipsed by Gordie's
100-point season and MVP trophy. And the Gordian shadow extended beyond the
ice. "We used to have to do an interview about every day in Houston,"
says Mark. "It was always the same—they'd ask Marty one question, ask me
one and talk to Dad for a half-hour. After a while I stopped going."
Before the 1977-78
season, the Howes moved to the New England (now the Hartford) Whalers. After
getting 91 points that season, Mark had 107 in 1978-79 and made the WHA
All-Star team for the third time. In 1979-80 Whaler Coach Don Blackburn
switched him to defense, and Mark responded with 80 points but unspectacular
defense. That season was the Whalers' first in the NHL and Gordie's last (we
think) as a player, so Mark seemed ready to come into his own. Indeed, he got
off to a superb start in 1980-81, getting 43 points in his first 36 games and
leading Prince of Wales Conference defensemen in balloting for the midseason