The Night Gordie Howe Met His Match


” The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”          Amelia Earhart (1897-1937?)

I have two great passions in life – hockey and horticulture – but unfortunately, these divergent interests of mine seldom seem to cross paths. But just as the planets must align from time to time, so too did these converge – at least for one brief shining moment – and I wasn’t even there to mark the occasion, but Fred and Gordie were.

Fred is my middle daughter, Rochelle. She acquired her nickname at birth by somehow reminding me of a Fred that I once knew, and the name just stuck. Despite her rather benign demeanor, she has a latent stubborn streak or tenacity that only surfaces when her righteous indignation flares up. By way of example, let me take you back to the day she was born. Fred came out screaming, with ruddy skin and an alarming amount of black body hair. I watched as the nurse carried her over to a side table for cleaning, where she inserted a small suction tube into her mouth. Fred literally grabbed at the tube with one hand and pulled it out. The nurse, in a moment of sheer shock, very nearly dropped her and would later confide that she had never seen a newborn with that degree of dexterity – but then again, she had never met Fred.

Gordie is none other than Gordon Howe – the greatest player the venerable game has ever known – which is why he is the one and only Mr. Hockey. It is a title he has earned over decades of playing the toughest game on ice – much of it during the gritty original-six era – during which time he won the Hart trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player six times and finished in the top five in scoring for 20 consecutive seasons. More importantly, Gordie Howe is widely known as a decent person – a caring husband, a father who came out of retirement to play hockey with his sons, and someone who will gladly take the time to share a few words or a handshake with any fan – of which, there are not a few.

Fred and Gordie have only met on one occasion, and I have an autographed hockey card to prove it. It serves as a personal reminder that even though I once made a wrong decision, the love of a daughter and the generosity of a hockey legend can still conspire to put a smile back on my face. This is how that conspiracy came to pass.

Several years ago, I was nominated for a trade award in regards to my garden writing. The nomination was completely unexpected and to be honest, I was a little flattered. My employer decided to purchase tickets (rather expensive ones) to the gala, after asking me if I could attend – which I agreed to do. I went home that evening thinking that I had good news to share, but instead, I found out that the girls had scrimped and saved to buy tickets for the entire family to go to the Vancouver Giants Gordie Howe night, which happened to be the same evening as the awards banquet. I had a difficult decision to make, and while my heart told me to go to the hockey game, my head countered by reminding me that not attending the awards banquet could be perceived as a blatant snub. And I’m sorry to say that my head won – much to the dismay of my family.

When the day finally arrived, I gave Fred my Gordie Howe hockey card – just in case – but I reminded her that the chances of actually meeting him were rather slim and that she didn’t need to worry about bringing back any souvenirs. The ceremony was an all-day affair: beginning at noon with a luncheon, followed by an inspirational speaker, the annual general meeting (which took up most of the afternoon) and then a formal evening gala and awards banquet. To make a long story short, I didn’t win, but that’s not what was bothering me at the end of the day – because I knew I really should have been with the girls at that hockey game.

Meanwhile, back at the Pacific Coliseum, no one in my family had managed to win one of those elusive meet & greet tickets – but that didn’t seem to phase Fred. Security guards, arena staff and personal handlers were about to find out that once she decided to get Gordie Howe’s autograph for her dad, there was little they could do to hold her back. So, Fred put on her game face and that panic-stricken young woman, on the verge of tears, threaded her way right up to the VIP signing area – where an embarassed security guard shrugged his shoulders and said “Sorry Mr. Howe, but I just couldn’t stop her.” He looked up at this distraught young woman clenching a hockey card and as he took it from her hand he made a comment about not seeing too many tallboys anymore (actually, it was a Parkhurst 1964-65 reprint), and then he asked her who it was for. She explained that it was for Mike, her father, who couldn’t be there because he had to attend an awards banquet. He signed it for her right away and teased her a little as he handed it back saying, “It was Greg, right?” It took Fred a few seconds to realize that he was just kidding her, but it had the desired effect – she left with a smile.

When I got home that evening, Fred was still up and clearly excited about something. The first thing she said was,”you were right Dad, Gordie Howe is a nice guy.” I was a little surprised to learn that she had met him, but before I could say another word she handed me the card, with much the same dignity that one presents a prestigious award – which it was. He wished me luck on the inscription and at that very moment, I was indeed a very lucky father. While we may not always make the right decisions in life, it’s sure good to know that even when you do screw up, there’s always a chance that a caring daughter and a hockey legend will still come through for you.

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