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November 23, 2012
As Detroit charged toward the 1955 Cup, Howe's relaxed approach was both brilliant and infuriating
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November 23, 2012

Making It All Look Easy

As Detroit charged toward the 1955 Cup, Howe's relaxed approach was both brilliant and infuriating

From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, January 24, 1955

TWO SEASONS AGO, IN A GAME IN WHICH the Red Wings were trailing Chicago by a goal and with only seconds remaining in the third and final period, Detroit's superlative rightwinger, Gordie Howe, corralled the puck at center ice and drove deep into Blackhawks territory. "Shoot! For heaven's sake, shoot!" bellowed Jack Adams, the Red Wings' veteran general manager.

Calmly, almost languidly, Howe held his shot, stickhandled across the ice and cut in from the other wing.

"For Pete's 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! Gordie!" Adams stammered in the dressing room after the game, thumping his palm to his forehead in the gesture of barely controlled exasperation made famous by actor Edgar Kennedy. "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 undoubtedly possesses the most complete, natural talent of any modern hockey player, and what bothers the Red Wings' fans is the recurring dream of the prodigies he would perform if only he could light a fire under himself each time he steps on ice—as Maurice Richard of the Canadiens does without conscious effort, or, to name two others, "Teeder" Kennedy of the Maple Leafs and Howe's teammate Ted Lindsay, Old Forever Furious. 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 greatest.

The members of this latter persuasion find the record book an articulate confederate. In each of the last four seasons, Howe has led the NHL 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, 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 before the season ends he may well catch the leaders, the ageless Richard and Boom Boom Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau.

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 playoffs, that the club began its long, uninterrupted reign as the champions of the league. For six straight years now the Wings have won the NHL pennant, and year after year their only serious competition has been provided by the Canadiens and the Leafs.

In this day when superstars are becoming scarcer and scarcer, Detroit has four: Howe, Lindsay, defenseman Red Kelly and goalie Terry Sawchuk. Curiously enough, of this quartet, only one, Sawchuk, was lined up all the way by the Detroit organization. The Leafs could easily have snagged Lindsay, who attended St. Michael's College in Toronto. With Detroit, Lindsay has been rated the NHL's All-Star left wing six of the last seven years. The Leafs had the same opportunity to land Kelly, who also played at St. Mike's. With Detroit, Kelly has developed into the best defenseman in the league.

And the Rangers 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 because 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 Galt junior team in the Ontario Hockey Association; a final seasoning season in 1945--46 with Omaha in the U.S. Hockey League; then up to the Wings. Howe scored his first major league goal against Toronto's 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."

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