April 30, 2015

"Odie" Lowe

Norman Lowe was a junior scoring star in Lethbridge and Winnipeg in the late 1940s. He would go on to a storied amateur career and also played with the New York Rangers.

Lowe was hailed by the hockey world as "Odie," a nickname inherited from his father, a scoring star himself before becoming a legendary coach in Saskatchewan and later British Columbia. The younger Odie would follow in his father's footsteps.

But it didn't take the younger Odie long to make a name for himself. He was a brilliant offensive player - a great goal scorer but even better playmaker.

The Rangers brought him to New York directly out of junior, but he would play primarily with the minor league New York Rovers for two seasons. He was emerging as a particularly dominant scorer by year two, with 36 assists and 53 points in just 44 games. He would go on to lead all scorers in playoff scoring.

Lowe did get into four NHL games over two season, 1948-49 and 1949-50. He would score one goal and one assist, both coming in his second game.

It was also his second game that day. Lowe had played a matinee game across town with the Rovers and wowed with 5 points. He was summoned to Madison Square Gardens for the evening NHL tilt vs. the Boston Bruins. Lowe scored about a minute into the contest, and later assisted on the game winning goal.

Though he earned the praise of New York bosses Frank Boucher and Lynn Patrick, but he would never play in the NHL again. The Rangers had their three centers set with Buddy O'Connor, Edgar Laprade and Bones Raleigh. There was just no room for many players like Lowe in the three-line era of only six teams.

That, and as Odie Lowe himself explains, his inability to win a faceoff against Boston Bruins Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt.

"I killed my own chances with the Rangers. I was called up two or three weeks later and we were playing Milt Schmidt and the Bruins. He was a big, strong German type, strong as a bull. I don’t think I won a faceoff off him. Our goalie, Charlie Rayner, was yelling, ‘Get another centreman out there.’ I had my chance and if I hadn’t run into that one episode, I might have made it.”

From there Lowe was dispatched to St. Paul, Minnesota, scoring an unthinkable 33 goals and 78 points in just 39 games, before returning to the amateur ranks. He initially returned home to Winnipeg for a couple of seasons chasing the Allan Cup with the Maroons senior team.

Then, by the invitation of George "Corky" Agar, he relocated to British Columbia's hot and sunny Okanagan region and became a playing and coaching legend in Vernon. Lowe was a record breaking scorer for the Vernon Canadians for seven seasons through the 1950s. In 1956 Lowe led Vernon to the top of the heap, winning the Allan Cup as Canada's national amateur champions!

As the 1960s the Okanagan league collapsed, but Lowe stepped behind the bench. He formed Vernon's own junior hockey team and led them to several British Columbia championships over the next few years. Later he would guide the junior Vernon Essos to multiple championships. Future NHLers on those Vernon teams included Eddie Johnstone and Don Murdoch.

Lowe, who worked for the city of Vernon, continued to play hockey himself. He played for the Vernon Luckies, winning the Coy Cup as British Columbia Senior B champions in 1965. He remained on the ice all the way until he was 85 years old, serving as a referee!

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