Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Posted: 3:26 p.m. Updated: 8:39 p.m.
By Tim Panaccio
Mark Howe was preparing to trim some bushes outside his home in Jackson, NJ when the phone rang.
Howe didnt recognize the Caller ID, so he didnt pick up. Then, he saw a call from his secretary with the Detroit Red Wings. She told Howe someone in Toronto was trying to reach him.
It was Pat Quinn, Jim Gregory and Bill Hay from the Hockey Hall of Fame. They were calling to tell the Flyers elite, puck-moving defenseman that hed be voted into the Hall.
I was awestruck, kind of speechless, Howe said. I knew I was close, but I truly believed I would never get in. To be considered is an honor itself. To get in is a thrill.
Long overlooked by his peers, on Tuesday afternoon, the Flyers' all-time leading scorer among defensemen became their first blue liner elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Howe will be joined by Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour and Ed Belfour. Their class will be enshrined in November.
Unfortunately, Fred Shero, the revolutionary coach behind the Flyers two Stanley Cups, was again snubbed by the Hall.
By far, Mark Howe was the best puck mover the Flyers have ever had, said general manager Paul Holmgren, a former teammate. Over a long stretch of time it was phenomenal how good he was at both ends of the rink.
Howe compiled 480 points during a decade of brilliance on the Flyers blue line. His career began in 1973 with the WHAs Houston Aeros where he played alongside his father, Gordie, as well as his older brother, Marty.
He was asked what it was like to play behind the long shadow his father casted.
Hey, Im Gordie Howes son; theres no way around that, Mark Howe said. Ill always be that. I think I was far more in that frame when we played together in Houston and Hartford.
Once I got traded to Philly, and I was on my own more, thats when things started to change. People started to look at me a little differently.
Howe said he tried to set his own expectation as a player because, If you try to live up to Gordie Howe, youre not going to do it.
For 10 years, Howe set standards that to this day no other Flyers defenseman has been able to duplicate.
Mark Howe is the first Flyers defenseman to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and rightfully so, said Flyers chairman Ed Snider. When he played for the Flyers he was the ultimate leader both on and off the ice.
He is one hell of a guy and one of the classiest men I've ever been around. I'm particularly proud of Mark on his outstanding career and his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. This is a tremendous honor for Mark and I'd like to congratulate him on this milestone in his career.
Flyers president Peter Luukko added, He was one of the best skating defensemen in the history of the league. He was one of those players, who like Bobby Orr, you watch him come off during a shift and could not wait for him to come back out. He was so much fun to watch.
His skill and grace, as well as his leadership ability, both on and off the ice, put him in a class by himself. The Flyers are proud to see one of our former players be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Howe was traded to the Flyers in 1982-83 from the Hartford Whalers, where he had been playing after the WHA and NHL merged.
Mark came in and made such a difference for the Flyers, getting up on the play and moving the puck out before people had a chance to get something going on their forecheck, teammate Brian Propp recalled.
Howe was considered the cornerstone blue liner on those wonderful Flyers teams of the mid-1980s that challenged but never beat the Edmonton Oilers during two Stanley Cup Final engagements.
Those Mike Keenan-coached clubs were among the most admired Flyer teams ever.
The thing that was so great about our teams was we were a team without a lot of skill but a tremendous work ethic and tremendous heart, Howe said.
We took pride in our work ethic. If I look back, the scoring ability of Tim Kerr, the all-around great player that Brian Propp was and the great team leader that Dave Poulin was between Pelle Eklund and Ilkka Sinisalo and Brad McCrimmon and Rick Tocchet we had a lot of very gifted hockey players that a lot of people didnt think were that good.
I just wish we could have played Edmonton one year with a healthy Dave Poulin and a healthy Tim Kerr. That didnt happen.
Howes best season was 1985-86 when he scored 24 goals, had 58 assists and 82 points in 77 games, while leading the NHL with a plus-85 rating.
Look at his plus-minus with partner McCrimmon, Propp said. They were plus-85 every year. You knew when you were on the ice with him you would have an offensive chance and not have to work as hard on defense as much because he was so good at getting back.
As brilliant as Howe was that 1985-86 season when the Flyers lost to the Oilers in the Cup Final, he took second in the Norris Trophy voting to the Oilers Paul Coffey.
Howe never won the Norris, finishing second in the balloting in 1983 to Washingtons Rod Langway and in 1987 to Bostons Ray Bourque.
He did everything quietly, said fellow Hall of Famer Bob Clarke. He was just a quietly great player that just happened to be in the wrong era, finished runner up to Bourque and Coffey for Norrises.
In any other era he probably would have been known as the best defenseman in the game. Next to Coffey, he was the best skating defenseman of his era. He didnt have that long stride like Coffey, but he was an exquisite skater. His balance was so good.
Holmgren was impressed that Howe played bigger than his 5-foot-11 size.
He had a tremendous wrist shot, Holmgren said. For not being a big guy, Mark was so good defensively. Look at his plus-minus. It was phenomenal how good he was at both ends of the rink.
Howe remained a Flyer through 1991-92 before moving on to the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent. After the 1987-88 season, his remaining years both as a Flyer and elsewhere were compromised because of knee and back injuries. He retired after the 1994-95 season.
That one year he was plus-85 and McCrimmon was plus-83 and next guy was Wayne Gretzky in the 50s, Poulin said.
Where it really shone for me was penalty killing. We were a threat to score every time on the ice, largely because Mark Howe was such a threat. He was more aggressive shorthanded than at any other point.
You know, we lost in the finals 1985, 1987 to a Edmonton team that had what, seven Hall of Famers? And hes our first. And he should be our first. He was our best player. The other teams second line center was wearing No. 11 Mark Messier and we were taking them to seven games so much because of Mark.
Howe was a three-time All-Star starter 1982-83, 1985-86 and 1986-87 during his NHL career. He also played in the 1981 All-Star Game.
He was one of the best players of his era, Poulin said. He was truly one of the great defensemen and an all-round defensemen. In that era, Langway was better defensively.
And there were offensive defensemen like Al MacInnis and Coffey, guys who won the Norris and then you had a great all-around talent like Howe. Mark was in the all around category.
Howe was elected into the Flyers Hall of Fame in 2001 and presently scouts for the Red Wings.
CSN contributor Jay Greenberg assisted in this story.E-mail Tim Panaccio at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TPanotchCSN.