Niagara Gazette

Columns

December 8, 2013

SINGER: The recollection of hockey icons

Niagara Gazette — A long-running Sabres coach, whose tenure coincided with the span of many young fans’ lives here, made a triumphant return earlier this fall at the helm of the Dallas Stars, receiving an ovation.

That notwithstanding, Mr. Ruff’s autobiography would probably not be a splendid read. My feeling is that people who are great in their disciplines are those whose memoirs, even when co-written, are most worth picking up.

And that’s absolutely true of the hockey realm. Of course for a long time there was heated debate on the greatest ever, which is hard to judge, given that eras are so different in this, as in any pro sport.

But two names that once floated regularly to the top were Wayne Gretzky, and from an earlier period, Gordie Howe, the latter lasting on ice almost as long as Methuselah. Predictably, the “Great One’s” memoir (“Gretzky: An Autobiography”) is a fine read all the way.

As for Howe, aficionados ought to scare up a long, marvelously full family production called “And... Howe!” —because Gordie was not only a great hockey player, but a wonderful family man; and his late wife Colleen, and pro alumni sons, Mark and Marty, contribute greatly to recollections here.

Odd perhaps, given that on ice Howe was as brutal as he was sweet at home. Why brutal? Not out of sadism, but because to survive when less than 200 in the world made Original Six teams and were as expendable as bottle caps, you had to out-crazy your opponent, as he put it! Gordie’s elbows were legendary, and when I saw him play as a young ‘un, I wondered how a guy who looked ponderous out there could have the puck so frequently nailed to his stick. One reason was that he inflicted stitches like a surgeon, and even in the case of a pesky young Mikita, a one-punch KO (behind the net and while play was still going!) to gain both respect and ice room.

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