Howe Opens Up About His Book and Much More!!
I’m a Pittsburgh native. I’ve grown up there, in the city of “champ-yinz” for the majority of my life. When I had the opportunity to interview the great Mark Howe, I was elated. Yet, while I carried around his book with the image of him in a Flyers uniform, the glares I received from Pittsburghers, also known as “yinzers,” were comparable to those that one would get when only driving the speed limit.
Mark Howe, Gordie Howe’s son, as he continues to identify himself, exposed much of his personal life in this autobiography. Traditionally, an autobiography recounts the achievements and challenges that one individual has encountered. But, this book is more of a “family-ography” written from the perspective of just one person.
The stories that Howe told and the way that Jay Greenberg transcribed them really do shed a light into operations of the Howe family. The milestones, achievements, and challenges that were mentioned create a relationship between the reader and the Howes. The latter half of the title really made the reader feel as if he was part of the story. Mark pulled the reader into his personal life by discussing his family traditions, to which many people may relate. To follow up, I talked with the decorated Hall of Fame Flyer who divulged more personal narratives along with some amusing rivalry talk regarding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
What inspired you to tell your story about the time you spent in the NHL and the other leagues with which you were involved?
“Jay Greenburg had approached me about possibly writing a book. I turned him down a couple of times. But the third time he asked, he talked about doing it along the lines of a tribute to my parents. So, we did it more along the concept of that.
Did your attitude or demeanor change throughout the book writing process? Did it changed from beginning to end; were you more excited to finish as you went on or did you wish it would have continued even longer?
“We actually did it throughout the time of the lockout, so it kept me busy. I had a little extra time on my hands between writing the book and Hurricane Sandy near the Jersey Shore. So, all of that together kept my pretty busy. But, the book writing process was a little bit slow, a little bit ugly, but Jay wrote a small sample chapter and we both disagreed with a few things. I told him what I liked and he picked up on it and after that, he did an outstanding job on writing the book after that point. Some of the incorporations to the book are his, but I think most of it is mine.”
I really enjoyed the latter half of the book, pretty much from chapter ten on. You really got personal with your NHL career, your parents, your brother, your team mates, and your family. Even in the end of the book when they were raising your jersey to the rafters, you said, “Even on Mark Howe Night in Philadelphia, I was Gordie Howe’s son.” You really did have a decorated career and created a name for yourself and aren’t just Gordie Howe’s son anymore. How did your play contribute to that and are you happy with the way it all turned out?
“I guess the only thing I feel that I missed out on was winning the Stanley Cup as a player. Every player grows up playing hockey with that idea to raise the Stanley Cup. But as far as the title of the book, I was the one that suggested to just call it “Gordie Howe’s Son.” To this day, I mean, I am always Gordie Howe’s son. I’m still introduced to others such as, “I want to introduce you to Gordie Howe’s son, Mark.” But that comes with the territory. My favorite chapters in the book are when I talk about my mother and my father and dealing with my mother’s illness. For me, everything comes from the heart and to me, that’s touching, and Jay did a great job of bringing that out.”
Your mother also wrote a book as well from what you mentioned correct?
“Oh yeah, my mom wrote about three or four books over the years. She wrote one called, “And Howe.” That book came out in the late 90’s and that was also the time when she came down with dementia. But my mom was really a work-a-holic. She was always full of ideas and was always trying to create ways to raise money for various charities including the Howe Foundation that she created. When dad retired, she then got into the public appearance business.
In your book, you talked about a lot of players that were coming and going either through the WHL/NHL merger or even just being traded when playing for Philadelphia. What was your most favorite pairing (aside from your dad and Marty) that you had in your career?
“Without a doubt, it was with my defense partner in Philly, Brad McCrimmon. For three and a half years we were rooming together every day and we even went vacationing together in summers. Mostly, we worked really hard at our craft during practice and that translated to some success during a game. With that said, the best chemistry that I’ve ever had with another player was when I played with my dad. I think a very close second to that was with Brad. We had some other good hockey players, such as Kjell Samuelsson. I still see Kjell quite about and definitely enjoyed my time with him, but as far as the chemistry between Brad and me, it’s just some that you can’t really explain.
Yeah, I’m calling you from Pittsburgh, and the whole time that I’ve been reading your book, I’m carrying it around and getting these looks because of the Flyer on the front cover. I immediately comment that I’m interviewing you.
“Yeah, I know, especially in the past four or five years the rivalry has really intensified. In my opinion, it’s one of the most heated rivalries in the history of the game. It’s a battle of East and West in the state of Pennsylvania.
Yes, it’s quite incredible. Many people here, that I know, just drop what they’re doing in the evening and put the game on whether at home or at a local pub. But it’s fun to talk about that’s for sure.
“The thing is, is that they, Pittsburgh, they have a good team. They have so many good players, even with a little turmoil that they are going through right now. Going back to the late 80’s, uh, the Penguins were a pretty weak group. But then Mario came along and they became a power house. After that, they sagged again a little bit, but now they’re right back to being a perennial power house again.
It’s fair to say that you’ve definitely experienced loss in your life through your team mates and your own mother. How do tragic events change, or make you adapt, your playing style? Or does it even change at all?
“When you’re younger, you’re so focused on what you’re doing. When we lost Pelle Lindbergh, as a teammate, it was hard to take. It was such a tragic loss at such a young age. Actually, the tragedy that affected me even more was when our teammate, Timmy Kerr, his wife, Kathy, passed away giving birth. They were in their late 20s and it impacted me even more because at the time, I had three children, Timmy had three children, and it left me wondering what he was going to do. Someone you’re with every single day and that’s someone you’re with during the hockey season. It was pretty traumatic. But I think as you get older, your perspective changes a little bit. When I lost my mother, it was my first direct family member that ever passed away. I tend to look at it as my mom’s side in myself. It was a crime that her life was taken short. It was a crime that the last ten years of her life were poor mentally and there wasn’t much quality to her life. But my mom was a very optimistic thinker and I really try to be that way. I regroup and tend to look back and reflect on all of the good things that happened in life. That’s like the death with Brad McCrimmon. Rather than looking back at the tragedy, I remember the great times that we shared together.
I was telling some colleagues about this upcoming interview and posed some sample questions to them. The “Gordie Howe Hat-Trick” label was something in which all of them were interested.How did Gordie’s name get attached to that certain type of hat-trick? Was the label media-driven or did it come out in a conversation with Mr. Hockey himself?
“No, my dad would have never put his name on stuff like that. I’m not sure exactly where it came from. It’s just like when players tape their sticks or pads, especially their sticks, it’s a sticky kind of tape, and every once in a while you’ll see an older player still using that sticky tape and they still call it Gordie Howe tape to this day. I don’t know who did it, but between the hat-trick and the tape, it’s probably a showing of respect and what dad did for the game whether it was through the media or through the players.
How how’s scouting changed your perspective on the game of hockey? Do you enjoy it as much as you liked playing?
“You don’t deal with the emotional highs and lows that you do as a player. Obviously, winning as an organization is the goal of everybody. Without a doubt, the players on the ice and the coaches behind the bench are the people who deserve most of the credit. They are the ones doing all of the work, basically. Whether you’re in the front office, or you’re in scouting, you’re still a part [of the team], but a much smaller portion. I do agree that anybody who scouts, ex-players or not, you only do it because of the passion that you have and you enjoy. I mean, I have, pretty much, my own schedule. Once in a while, there will be a game, a good rivalry game, like the Rangers and Islanders or the Penguins and Flyers, that I’ll put on my schedule to watch. The quality of games seems to be a little bit better in the rivalry games. When you scout, it isn’t just going and watching games, you’re going into buildings, you’ve been in the environment you’ve been in your whole life, you’re talking hockey with people. If you don’t have a passion for it, you won’t be in it very long. Everybody in scouting, managing, coaching, they all of a passion for it and that’s why they do it.
I think many people understand the preparation that takes place for players and even coaches before a game. But, many of us, as fans, may not know how an average day as a scout works. Can you walk us through what you do on a day during the regular season? Playoffs?
“Over the course of the year, you’re goals change. You go to training camp and get a good feel for your team and players. As you get out you’re trying to analyze each player on your team and seeing where they fit in your organization. Then you get into scouting for the trade deadline time of year. Many of the pro-scouts do the NHL and the American league (AHL) teams too. So, in the NHL, it is trying to get to know everybody, but especially the un-restricted free agents coming up. When you get to the AHL, you’re trying to identify prospects and players that need a one-year contract. As you get closer to playoffs, it’s more geared toward scouts pre-scouting for the games. Sometimes we will watch more of the games themselves as opposed to the individuals. Scouts have to set their schedule at times to be two or three weeks out of town. You have to book all your travel and trying to save a little bit of money by doing it ahead of time instead of the day before when airline tickets are more expensive. In my case, on the East coast, I drive a lot. The first thing that I do in the morning, I do my report from the game before. If I have some time, I get in a work-out and do my daily routine around the house. Generally, if I’m driving to a game, I leave the house at about two or three in the afternoon to beat traffic. When you’re doing AHL things, I try to get there at least an hour and a half early (early in the season) as the teams generally have new players. I like to watch the scouting program that the teams have. It is then that I can read about them and get a feel for those players from what our amateur scouts see. Then, I have to see if he is consistent with that report or if he has changed; then the routine continues. Generally, I would think that generally, most scouts watch about 150 games a year. It’s a process, but on average a scout is watching about five or six games a week.
Do you actually take your report and that information to Mike Babcock or do you have a scouting group that takes the information to the GM?
“No, most teams have a scouting program that they use. I know the program we use in Detroit is called Rinknet. It’s a scouting system where you write all your reports, link up to the service, and you upload everything to the system. I can download everyone else’s reports and everyone else has access to my reports as well. You the GM or whoever is in the office, they can see what’s going on. With the younger guys, you’re trying to guess where they are going to be in four or five years and what type of player they are going to be when it’s all said and done. Whereas with the older guys, you know what [type of player] they are. For example, the question is if I look at [the Penguins’] Evgeni Malkin, whose place could he take on our team? Well, basically he could take anybody’s place. Even free agent Brooks Orpik, where would Brooks fit in with our team with his style of play? You try to make your best estimate on where they fit in the team and in some cases where some players don’t fit in with your team.
We are starting to see your peers taking on roles higher-up in organizations. Ronny Hextall was recently hired by Philadelphia; your former team and his. Do you have any interest in climbing the ladder into coaching or management?
“No, I’ve been retired now about twenty years. Early on I think I had some interest in coaching, but at the time, all of the coaching vacancies, in Detroit, were filled at the time.
You know the Penguins are looking for a coach right?
“Well, yeah. That’s true.”
“Even something like that, it would be impossible for me, who has been out of the league for so long, to come in and be a head coach. Maybe an assistant coach, but. I always thought that I would have been a good teacher at the American League level. Although you’re trying to win, it is important to teach and try to develop players. But, that opportunity didn’t come along. When I was a player, I said that I never wanted to become a scout because they’re gone 24/7. But, that’s not the case, especially on the East coast. Where I am, halfway between Philly and New York, half of the games that I watch, I’m usually at home in my drive-way at night. Now, on the West coast, they have a tougher load being on airplanes and two to three hour flights. That’s a different animal. But I got into the scouting routine and I liked it. A couple of times in the last three or four years, I had a chance to go higher up the ladder, but along with enjoying the game and scouting, I also enjoy my personal life. I enjoy my free time in the summers, minus a couple of meetings, until July 1st free agency. Once you get to, you know, when you get to be an assistant GM, or GM, basically you don’t have summer vacations. Those guys are in the office 365 days a year. They always have their phones on them dealing with players and player contracts and so many other things. Twenty years ago, I would have enjoyed being a coach at the American League level or maybe an assistant coach in the NHL, but I never wanted to be a GM or an assistant GM.
How do you think Hexy will do?
“I think he’ll do great. If anybody watched him as a player, he was a very passionate, competitive player in games, practices, and all the time. That’s just his nature. He dropped the business in scouting. He grew up wanting to become a general manager and he is a big leader-type of guy. He has been in the business since the grass roots. He was one of the architects who helped build the LA Kings to what they are now. I think he is going to take that mold and that stamp and he is a great team player and a great team guy. I think he will do wonderfully for the Flyers. He will build a team that is going to be good for a while.”
To whom could you compare your playing style from today’s game?
“Maybe someone like a Duncan Keith. I think I was a little bit more in control that Duncan Keith. But, he is mobile guy, he can get the loose pucks, he can get the puck going the other way, he is defensive on the power play and the penalty kill. He can play a lot of minutes. He probably isn’t the average size of the players and he is competitive.
Finally, you skated on the same line as your father and your brother, Marty, while your mother acted as the Howe agent. You seemed to have won your own “Stanley Cup” with those happenings. Can you speak on those experiences that no one else in the game of hockey will ever get to have?
“When we played together, Marty was always a defenseman, while I was always a left winger until I was about twenty-five. So, I mean, I played winger while my dad was playing either center or right wing. I spent six years being the left winger on his line. The thing I would appreciate most, at the time dad was 44 until he was 52 when he retired, was just getting the chance, not just to watch, but to be with him on the ice and on the bench every single day a 44 years of age. Even at his age, he was the best player in the league. He won the MVP one year in the WHA. One year they had the pre-game all star series where dad played right wing, Gretzky was the center, and I was the left winger. Any time I played on or against a team with great players, I just appreciated it. It just so happens, that I think the greatest player ever was my father. My brother and I played on the same team from four or five years-of-age up until when I got traded to Philly when I was twenty-six. But what made it so special to be able to watch dad play and watch the things he could do, was that he wasn’t just playing at the age of 52; he was still a good player at that age, and I saw him playing at the twilight of his career. He did whatever it took to win. I would have loved to be playing with him on his line during his heyday. My mom was our agent for a number of years and negotiated contacts and had to do a lot of promotion off of the ice, especially down in Houston. I think she was a big part of the organization and trying to grow the game down in Texas. In the four years my dad and I had down there playing together were as special as any years that I had in hockey. As an individual, my years in Philly were the best years for me. But we won two championships down there in Houston as a group. We just went out and played together and then sometimes went and had a couple of beers together. I was a young player trying to prove myself, prove that I belong, and improve my game. But as I became older I had the chance to look back and yeah, without a doubt, those years were four of the most wonderful years that I ever had in hockey.
To Mark Howe, it wasn’t the Stanley Cup, being a scout for the Red Wings, or even being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame that made his career meaningful. It was his family, his teammates, the celebrations, the tragedies, and all of the moments that he still remembers to this day that made his hockey career unforgettable.
How can a writer sum up the life of the Howe family in ten interview questions? He can’t. This article can only show a glimpse of perspective from the family who invested countless amounts of time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears into a sport that is flourishing in America more than ever before. The hard work that came from the Howe’s in 70s and on, especially Colleen, has extended into the game we watch today. Today’s sports agents have something to reference, nets have been redesigned, and stick-tape even has a nickname all because of the impression that this family has made with the global hockey world.
Howe Family Links:
Mark Howe HoF Induction Speech
Mark Howe Flyer Highlights
Gordie Howe – “Legends of Hockey”
(Including Colleen Howe)
“Howe Family Night”
Let's Play Hockey: A Complete and Fully Illustrated Instruction Book on Hockey for Both Junior and Senior Players, 1974 – Gordie Howe
My Three Hockey Players published, 1975 – Colleen Howe
After the Applause, 1989 – Colleen Howe
20th Century Hockey Chronicle, 1994 – Co-written by Gordie and Colleen Howe
And ...Howe!: An Authorized Autobiography, 1995 – Gordie and Colleen Howe, Tom Delisle
My Hockey Memories, 1999 - Gordie Howe
When the Final Buzzer Sounds, 2000 – Colleen Howe
You Read to Me & I'll Read to You: 20th-Century Stories to Share, 2001 – Gordie and Colleen Howe
Nine: A Salute to Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, 2007 – Bob Duff and Bill Roose