DAPHNE, Ala. — The United States Sports Academy is mourning the loss of Gordie Howe, one of the greatest hockey players of all time and the recipient of the Academy’s highest international award.
Howe was honored with the Academy’s 2015 Eagle Award for his contributions to sport as a hockey player. He died 10 June 2016 at the age of 88.
The Eagle Award is presented annually to a world leader in sport to recognize that individual’s contributions in promoting international harmony, peace, and goodwill through the effective use of sport. The recipient of this award must have tempered strength with keen judgment in using authority wisely as a means of bringing nations together through sport for the betterment of mankind.
Howe was known not only as among hockey’s best players, but as one of the most durable, competing at the professional level into his 50s. He was also recognized as one of the sport’s greatest ambassadors, known for being easygoing, down-to-earth, humble and willing to take time for fans.
“You find that you have peace of mind and can enjoy yourself, get more sleep, and rest when you know that it was a one hundred percent effort that you gave — win or lose,” Howe was quoted as saying.
Born in the small farming town of Floral in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1928, Howe grew up in nearby Saskatoon and played hockey at a youth. As a teenager, he caught the attention of the Detroit Red Wings and made his debut in the National Hockey League (NHL) at age 18, launching a remarkable career.
From 1946 to 1980, Howe played 26 seasons in the NHL and six seasons in the World Hockey Association (WHA). His first 25 seasons were spent with the Detroit Red Wings, where he earned the nickname, “Mr. Hockey.”
He led the league in scoring each year from 1950 to 1954, then again in 1957 and 1963. He ranked among the top 10 in league scoring for 21 consecutive years, and set a league record for points in a season in 1953 with 95. He won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings four times, won six Hart Trophies as the league’s most valuable player, and won six Art Ross Trophies as the leading scorer.
A 23-time NHL All-Star, he broke many of the sport’s major scoring records. He finished his professional career with 1,767 games played, 801 goals and 1,850 points (goals plus assists). His career scoring record stood until being topped by Wayne Gretzky. He still holds the record for number of seasons played at 26.
Howe retired in 1971 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the next year. In 1973, he came out of retirement to play on the Houston Aeros of the WHA, so that he could play alongside his sons, Mark and Marty Howe. Howe played for the Aeros for four seasons before joining the New England Whalers for two more seasons. When the Whalers were incorporated into the NHL as the Hartford Whalers for the 1979-80 season, Howe racked up his 26th NHL season. At the time of his second retirement as a professional athlete in 1980, Howe was 52 years old.
In 1997, “Mr. Hockey” was signed to a one-game contract with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League (IHL). The 70-year-old hockey superstar strapped on his skates to play in one last game, making him the only player to have spent six decades on the ice at the professional level, playing for the NHL, WHA, and IHL from the 1940s to the 1990s.
Howe is the only player to have competed in the NHL in five different decades — the 1940s to the 1980s. He was the inaugural recipient of the NHL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
In addition to his accomplishments in hockey, Howe and his late wife Colleen were generous philanthropists who supported a wide range of causes. In honor of her husband’s 65th birthday, Colleen Howe arranged a 65-city fundraising tour for a variety of charities, including the Howe Foundation and Howe Center for Youth Hockey Development.
In recognition of Howe’s impact on sport in the United States and Canada, officials in Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Ontario, have named the new bridge under construction between the two cities the “Gordie Howe International Bridge.”
Based in Daphne, Ala., the United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call (251) 626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.