November 09, 2020

Howie Meeker

To a whole generation of fans, Howie Meeker was the squeaky voiced announcer on television who highlighted replays with his revolutionary telestrator. Almost as famous as the telestrator and magic pen were his "Howie-isms" such as "Golly Gee Whiz" and the often used adjective "Cotton Pickin.' " "Pass the Cotton Pickin' Puck!" he'd often exclaim.

His unique, lengthy and numerous contributions to the hockey broadcasting industry landed Meeker in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998 in a special broadcasting category.

With Meeker's tremendous success on radio and television (as well as in print for that matter), it is easy to forget that once upon a time Meeker was a pretty good hockey player in his own right. Later he became a coach. And his entire NHL playing and coaching career took place in the Queen city of Toronto.

Like a lot of Canadian boys, Howie grew up with the dream of some day playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But even though he had been recruited by Hap Day for the Leafs while playing junior hockey, Meeker decided other things were more important than playing hockey, and he volunteered his services in the Canadian Armed Forces and he went overseas to do battle in the second World War. Meeker was even seriously injured during the war when a hand grenade blew up between his legs.

Three years after Meeker recovered from the hand grenade incident, he began re-pursuing his dream, playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Howie spent one season playing senior hockey with the Stratford Indians before the Leafs gave Howie his chance. And Howie didn't disappoint.

Meeker's passion for the frozen game was as obvious when he strapped on a pair of skates as it was when he put on a broadcaster's headset. The excitable Meeker made an exciting debut. Meeker centered the "Tricky Trio" line (also dubbed "Kid Line 2") with Teeder Kennedy and Vic Lynn.

He made his NHL debut with the Leafs in 1946-47. Howie notched 27 goals and 45 points in his first NHL campaign, good enough to earn him the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie performer. Meeker outshined everyone on the night of January 8, 1947 when he scored 5 goals in a game against Paul Bibeault and the Chicago Black Hawks. Even though these first year feats were incredible, for Howie they were not the best part of his dream season. His best memory had to have been helping the Leafs win the Stanley Cup in just his first year!

Winning Stanley Cups became the norm for Meeker. He was part of the dynasty years in Toronto, tasting champagne from the famous mug in each of his first three seasons, and in 4 of his first 5 seasons. However the rest of his playing career was not always as sweet.

Meeker missed the majority of his third season, 1948-49, with a collarbone injury suffered 2 days after Christmas. The injury would haunt Meeker for the rest of his days, and limited his effectiveness.

In just 346 games , Meeker scored 83 goals and 185 points. He played in 3 All Star games. To make matters even more interesting, during his playing career Meeker served for 2 years as a Conservative Member of Parliament in Ottawa.

While his promising playing career was cut short, Meeker never left the game of hockey. He spent two years coaching with the American Hockey League Pittsburgh Hornets before he got the opportunity to replace King Clancy as the Maple Leafs head coach in 1956-57. However a losing record prevented him from returning as head coach.

Meeker headed out to Newfoundland, where he coach and occasionally played in the St. John's senior hockey circuit. It's also where he got his break into broadcasting. Meeker would go on to enjoy a 30 year career with Hockey Night in Canada and later with The Sports Network.

"I'm the last guy in the world to think I'd be a successful broadcaster. I've got a terrible voice, all these other guys have got syrupy smooth voices. They've got fantastic memories and mine is long-term great, short-term not worth a lot."

Hockey has a lot of great characters who can tell a lot of great stories, but few if any are better at telling stories than Howie Meeker.

No comments: