Rangers—most ironic of all—could have had Howe. When he reported to New York's
tryout camp in Winnipeg, Gordie, one of nine children of a cement contractor,
was a gangling boy of 15, a shade more deer-eyed than usual since it was his
first trip away from his home in Floral, Saskatchewan, a granary depot on the
rim of Saskatoon. He spent four days at the Rangers' camp, and no one noticed
him. The next year he attended the Wings' tryout camp, and from that point on,
his progress was rapid: a season attached to the Gait junior team in the
Ontario Hockey Association; a final seasoning period with Omaha in the U.S.
Hockey League; then up with the Wings. Howe scored his first major league goal
against Turk Broda. "It wasn't very fancy," he was remembering
recently. "I just shoved it in. It was on his right. My left. I wrote many
a letter home about that one."
In his second
season Howe was moved up to form Detroit's first line with the veteran Sid Abel
and Lindsay. The trio soon became the most powerful line in the game. Abel had
one beef to register about his rightwinger's style of play. "I don't mind
this great stickhandling of yours," he told Howe one day, "but why
stickhandle around the same player three times!"
IF THE RANGERS
FAILED TO SPOT HOWE'S tremendous potential, it is somewhat, if not entirely,
understandable. Even today Howe is an extremely deceptive player. A few of his
attributes are easily observed: He has a quick, fast, beautifully disguised
shot; he is the best man in the business from 15 to 20 feet in front of the
net; he can skate all night, both ways; for all of his old-plantation
temperament, he can be rough and petulant on occasion; he plays his best hockey
after he has been pushed around, and opponents are wise to treat him
courteously; generally, he comports himself as if he had no idea he is one of
the game's great stars. On the other hand, a large number of Howe's exceptional
talents are almost invisible save to the true aficionado.
the Charley Gehringer of hockey," his old coach, Tommy Ivan, once said,
referring to the Detroit Tigers' Hall of Fame second baseman. "By that I
mean that he has both the ability and the knack for making the difficult plays
look easy, routine. Richard—you can't miss his skill, it's so dramatic.
Gordie—you have to know your hockey or you won't appreciate him."
example, has a long, gliding stride that he can accelerate so effortlessly that
even when he skates clean away from the opposing forwards and then circles a
defenseman, he seems to be moving slower than they are. When he appears to be
noodling with the puck in the offensive zone, doing nothing, he is actually
plotting whether to sweep in from the right or cut to the left, preparing to
shift his stick according to his move, for, like no other player in the history
of hockey, he is truly ambidextrous and is always shooting at you with a
Also invisible is
Howe's great relaxed strength, which manifests itself principally in wrists as
large as the average athlete's forearm. Oddly enough, or not so oddly in Howe's
case, the two most theatrical exhibitions he has ever given of his power and
coordination took place off the ice. A short time ago a Detroit newspaperman
took Howe, a new-to-the-game golfer, to a local course to see how he compared
as a distance hitter with Dizzy Trout, the old Tigers pitcher, and Chick
Harbert, the current PGA champion, both of whom are extraordinarily long off
the tee. Howe outdrove them both.
demonstration took place a few Septembers ago when Lou Boudreau, then managing
Cleveland, dropped in to watch a Red Wings practice the morning before a ball
game against the Tigers. "Lou, I think I could hit big league
pitching," Howe told him lazily. Boudreau invited him to come out to the
park that afternoon and they'd find out quickly enough in batting practice.
With Sam Zoldak, a former big league relief pitcher, throwing them in, Howe
lined the third pitch into the leftfield bleachers.