Illustrated JANUARY 24, 1955
TWO SEASONS AGO,
IN A GAME IN WHICH the Detroit Red Wings were trailing the Chicago Blackhawks
by a goal and had only seconds remaining in the third and final period, the
Wings' superlative rightwinger, Gordon Howe, corralled the puck at center ice
and drove deep into Hawks territory. "Shoot! For heaven's sake, shoot!"
bellowed Jack Adams, Detroit's veteran general manager.
languidly, Howe held his shot, stickhandled across the ice and cut in from the
sake, shoot, shoot!" Adams cried despairingly, one eye on Howe, the other
on the second hand of the stadium clock. Again Howe held back his shot in favor
of faking a defenseman between himself and the goal and then took a lazy
half-stride in the midst of which he flicked the puck low and hard past the
Chicago goalie. The buzzer, signaling the end of the game, sounded a split
second after the puck had bulged into the cords at the back of the net.
Gordie!" Adams stammered in the dressing room after the game, thumping his
palm to his forehead in a gesture of barely controlled exasperation.
"Gordie, you had two good shots you didn't take. What were you waiting
for?" Howe waited a moment, then another, before answering. "Well,"
he finally drawled, "I guess I jus' wanted to make sure."
During his nine
seasons with the Red Wings, Howe's unruffled, unhurried,
Sunday-stroll-through-the-garden approach to the vigorous business of big
league hockey has periodically produced large lumps of anguish not only in the
turbulent larynx of Jack Adams but also in the hearts of all good Detroit fans.
Howe, 26, undoubtedly possesses the most complete array of natural talent of
any modern hockey player, and what bothers the Wings fans is the recurring
dream of the prodigies he could perform if only he could light a fire under
himself each time he steps on the ice—as Maurice Richard of the Montreal
Canadiens does without conscious effort, or Howe's teammate Ted Lindsay. In the
meantime, they put up as best they can with Howe just as he is. For some he is,
with Richard, one of the two greatest players in the game; for others, the
The members of
this latter persuasion find the record book an articulate confederate. For each
of the last four seasons Howe has led the National Hockey League in scoring, in
1950-51 with 86 points (43 goals, 43 assists), in '51-52 with 86 points (47,
39), in '52-53 with a record 95 points (49, 46) and last season with 81 points
(33, 48). No other player has ever led the league more than two years in a row.
This season, on top of a slow start, Howe was forced by a shoulder injury to
sit out eight games—incidentally the first league games he has missed in six
bruising 70-game seasons. Since his return, and despite the absence of
Lindsay—his old linemate and playmate who has been out with a bum shoulder—Howe
has been moving at the pace of a goal and an assist a game, and at season's end
he may well catch the leaders, the ageless Richard and Bernie Geoffrion and
Jean Beliveau, two young Canadiens who have been having immense winters.
The Red Wings
annually are a well-balanced team, anything but a one-star outfit, yet it was
only after Howe came into his maturity as a hockey player (at age 21) during
the 1948-49 season that the club began its long, uninterrupted reign as NHL
champions. For six straight years now the Wings have won the league pennant for
finishing the regular season in first place and have come to be regarded as the
Yankees of hockey. Year after year, their only serious competition has been
provided by Les Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the other three
teams—the Boston Bruins, the New York Rangers and the Blackhawks—habitually
bogged down at the bottom of the standings in what amounts to a league of their
own to determine which one of them will limp into fourth place and so qualify
for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
THE MOST SPIRITED
RIVALRY IN HOCKEY for many years was between the Leafs and the Canadiens, a
natural extension of the traditional contentiousness between the two cities
(which reached something of an apex not so long ago when a Montreal newspaper
announced a contest, first prize to be one week in Toronto, second prize two
weeks in Toronto). More recently, this ancient hockey rivalry has cooled off a
bit, due partially to the rise of the Wings and partially to the decline of the
Leafs into a team that specializes in defensive positional play and is content,
after scoring a goal, to sit back and play kitty-bar-the-door hockey as it
attempts to make that goal grow larger and larger as the game clambers on.
In this day when
superstars are becoming scarcer and scarcer, Detroit has four: Howe, Lindsay,
defenseman Leonard Patrick (Red) Kelly and goalie Terrence Gordon (Terry)
Sawchuk. Curiously enough, of this quartet only one, Sawchuk, was lined up all
the way by the Detroit organization. The Leafs could have easily snagged
Lindsay, who attended St. Michael's College in Toronto and was regularly on
view playing with the school team in the Maple Leaf Gardens. With Detroit,
Lindsay has been rated the league's All-Star left wing six of the last seven
years. The Leafs had the same opportunity to land Kelly, who also attended and
played for St. Mike's. With Detroit, Kelly has developed into the best
defenseman in the league.