December 19, 2012

Gordie Howe: Hockey's Toughest Player, But Not Hockey's Top Fighter

Referee Red Storey breaks up Gordie Howe and Teeder Kennedy
It's funny how myth can be remember in history as fact. Take for example the notion that Gordie Howe was one of hockey's most feared fighters.

Now absolutely no one is doubting that Gordie Howe was tough. Not only was he tough, but he was mean. But often he let his bodychecks, or his stick, or his famous elbows do the dirty work. He was actually not a great fighter. 

History remembers him as such because, in large part, of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick that mysteriously has been attributed to him in his honour. Score a goal, assist on another and get into a fight all in the same game and you are said to be playing old time hockey like Gordie Howe. That's the way men should play hockey. And in the game of hockey, Gordie is the man.

But Gordie himself only had 2 such hat tricks.

In fact, in 32 NHL and WHA seasons totalling 2,450 regular season and playoff games, Gordie Howe had only 22 fights in his career. And outside of a few famous (infamous?) incidents, he was arguably never amongst the best fighters of his era.

Here's a look at all 22 of Gordie Howe's career fights, and, where possible, how he faired.

Oct. 20, 1946
Howe vs. Bill Ezinicki (Maple Leafs) - Wild Bill got the better of the rookie in his first NHL fight. Referee King Clancy threatened Ezinicki with a $25 fine if he did not stop.

Nov. 11, 1947
Howe vs. Murray Henderson (Bruins) - No notable information about the fight.

Dec.10, 1947
Howe vs. Bill Ezinicki (Maple Leafs) - A year later Gordie got his rematch against Wild Bill. The two were said to have "swung freely" at each other until other skaters jumped in. Media compared the fight to a "Frank Tunney promoted tag team wrestling match at the Maple Leaf Gardens."

Feb. 3, 1948
Howe vs. Gaye Stewart (Blackhawks) - 
No notable information about the fight. 

April 10, 1948
Howe vs. Howie Meeker (Maple Leafs) - Believe it or not Howie Meeker was named NHL rookie of the year during Gordie Howe's first season. I guess Gordie got his revenge on this night. Meeker was a spindly player who was no fighter. Gordie ended the fight with three quick punches. 

Nov. 3, 1948
Howe vs. Gus Mortson (Maple Leafs)
This was during an all-star game, believe it or not. It was the only fighting major ever assessed in All Star Game history.. Mortson had lost his stick and hit Howe, who was charging hard to the net. Gordie got up and started flailing at his opponent. The officials broke it up before Mortson had much of a chance to fight back.

Note:  A lot of people bring up Gordie Howe/Mike Walton skirmish at the 1968 all-star game, but that was not a full-blown fight. Both men received roughing minors. 

Jan. 30, 1949
Howe vs. Maurice Richard (Canadiens)
A true doozy between the two eternal rivals. Both men crashed into each other and came up scrapping. After being separated, both got free and started fighting again. Richard was still fuming as he went to the penalty box and earned a misconduct as he tried getting at Detroit's Sid Abel. In the process he grazed the face of referee King Clancy. 

Dec. 11, 1949
Howe vs. Fred Shero (Rangers)
This fight was so livid that the pair continued to fight in the penalty box until the police calmed things down

March 28, 1950
Howe vs. Bill Juzda (Maple Leafs)
Big Bill Juzda took a good punch from Gordie before he picked Howe up and body slammed to the ice.

Nov. 11, 1950
Howe vs. Bill Juzda (Maple Leafs)
The rematch saw Juzda wrestle the bigger Howe to a draw.

Jan. 21, 1951
Howe vs. Fern Flaman (Maple Leafs)
Fernie Flaman was about as tough as they come. He took exception to Howe hitting him on the shoulder with his stick. But little information of the actual fight is available. 

Dec. 2, 1951
Howe vs. Fern Flaman (Maple Leafs)
Started as a hit from behind by Howe, followed by stick swinging. Flaman started firing off punches, Howe landed only one. Hall of Fame official George Hayes had to bear-hug Flaman to to end the fight.

Nov. 8, 1952
Howe vs. Tim Horton (Maple Leafs)
The incredible strong Horton quickly established a bear-hug and body slammed Howe to the ice.

Oct. 10, 1953
Howe vs. Fern Flaman (Maple Leafs)

These two clearly did not like each other. This fight started with high sticks and quickly turned into punches with both men landing. This was Howe’s first “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” as he assisted on the games first goal, scored by Leonard “Red” Kelly and then scored himself a few minutes later.

Nov. 22, 1953
Howe vs. Aldo Guidolin (Rangers) - 
No notable information about the fight.

March 21, 1954
Howe vs. Ted Kennedy (Maple Leafs)
Howe’s high stick sliced Kennedy’s ear for eight stitches, which led to the agitated Leaf battling Howe in a spirited fight. This was the second time Howe would record his namesake’s hat trick as he scored the game’s first goal in the opening frame and then assisted on Ted Lindsay’s 25th and 26th goals of the season in the third period.

Dec. 16, 1956
Howe vs. Ron Ingram (Blackhawks) - 
No notable information about the fight. 

Feb. 2, 1957
Howe vs. Larry Cahan (Rangers) - Big Larry Cahan was clearly upset at Gordie in this fight. They both were said to land big blows before wrestling each other to the ice. Gordie took the worst of it. He was bleeding and needed stitches. Cahan received two five-minute majors for fighting to go along with a 10-minute misconduct and a $25 fine. Howe received a two-minute minor for high sticking and a five for fighting.

Feb. 1, 1959
Howe vs. Lou Fontinato (Rangers)
This was the fight that truly established Howe’s reputation as a tough guy. Fontinato had a major league reputation as the NHL’s top policeman until he met Howe. Both men exchanged punches in a long battle. Leaping Louie took the worst of it though. Fontinato’s nose was mangled and pushed so far over to the right side of his face that, as one media source reported, "it looked like he ran the 100-yard dash in a 90-yard gym."

March 15, 1962
Howe vs. Dick Meissner (Bruins) - 
No notable information about the fight. 

Nov. 8, 1964
Howe vs. Ralph Backstrom (Canadiens) - 
No notable information about the fight. 

Feb. 28, 1965
Howe vs. Noel Picard (Canadiens) - The rookie Picard appeared to get the better of the older Howe when he pulled his jersey over his head and landing two good punches. He then let Howe up and Gordie surprised him with two solid rights.

October 26, 1967
Howe vs Wally Boyer (Seals) - Gordie's final fight was his 2nd confirmed Gordie Howe hat trick, as he also scored a goal and picked up an assist.

It appears that Gordie Howe never had a fight in all his years in the World Hockey Association. He did receive a major penalty for his part in a brawl on November 1st, 1976, though it appears to be a third man in call as Gordie stepped in to help out son Marty.There you have it.

2,450 games played.
1,767 regular season NHL games.
157 NHL playoff games.
419 WHA regular season games.
78 WHA playoff games.
32 seasons.
22 confirmed fights.

2 Gordie Howe Hat Tricks.

Gordie Howe is one of the 5 greatest players to ever play the game. He very well may be THE greatest player to play the game. He was also tough as nails, not to mention mean and dirty. He was very much feared and respected, and rightfully so, but he was not a top pugilist.


Unknown said...

Gordie Howe was certainly very tough but no one was as tough throughout the 50's as Ferny Flaman. Gordie actually didn't fight all that much though he certainly intimidated with his stick and elbows and Flaman fought them all usually sticking up for teammates. Hockey News in 1966 picked Ferny as the top heavyweight of his era saying he may have never have lost a fight. He was simply the best when the game got rough. Body and hip checks !! his specialty.

L'Espion said...

The Gordie Howe hat trick is purely an invention of the media. Averaging less than a minute per game during his career hardly marks him as an NHL bad guy. Of course, there is a very good reason for that. Early in his career he was taken aside by his coach, Hall of Famer, Jack Adams and told to stay out of the penalty box. That and the fact that Howe soon proved he was more valuable on the ice as a player than a fighter headed him in the right direction.

Paul S. Heayn said...

The first time I heard of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick was when he played for Huston of the WHA when he scored four goals. A sports writer ask Gordie about the four goals and Gordie replied the it was a Texas Hat Trick - because everything is bigger in Texas! The media didn't take long to classify it as something entirely different.

Unknown said...

" more valuable on the ice as a player than a fighter

Would that more players would realize this...

Unknown said...

In ice hockey there is a saying that goes, "Technicians will beat Hooligans every time". Unless, of course, the Hooligans ARE technicians."

Unknown said...

I don't know how long ago this was posted but can anyone tell me which Newspaper the 100 yard dash in a 90 yard gym came from? I've been searching through all the available archives but can't seem to find it. Thanks!

Wilson Hoeft said...

An outstanding article exposing the truth about Howe. Howe's entire fighting reputation comes from that one Fontinato punch and not much else. The biggest joke is the "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" as he only had 2 in his entire career! Rock Tocchet had 18.... 18!!! I have started calling the feat of a fight, a goal and an assist in a game as a "Rick Tocchet Hat Trick". Let's give credit to the guy who earned it, not the guy whose fighting reputation survives on myth, hype and wishful thinking.

Arnie said...

To go along with the top comment. In a coach’s poll in 1958 Flaman was chosen best fighter.