With only one surname can you be a Hall of Fame defenseman and yet not even be the best hockey player in your own family.
Sadly, Mark Howe is now the best living hockey player in his clan, after father Gordie passed away in June.
Mark went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. But in hockey, even that high honor doesn’t mean that the sport is done recognizing you.
It was announced last week that the younger Howe is one of two winners of the Lester Patrick Trophy, for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
The award’s significance is in inverse proportion to its notoriety. I doubt that more than 4 out of 10 die-hard hockey fans could tell you what the Lester Patrick is.
That’s OK, I’ll do it.
The trophy is named after one of ice hockey’s founding fathers.
It’s not overstatement to say that Lester Patrick is hockey’s Alexander Cartwright.
Patrick is the founder of no less than 22 rules that are still in use in today’s game. He’s been called “the Brains of Modern Hockey.”
He introduced the blue line, the forward pass and the playoff system—a change adopted by other leagues and sports around the world. Patrick took a suggestion by his father to begin using numbers on players’ sweaters and in programs to help fans identify the skaters.
Patrick was responsible for crediting assists when a goal was scored, and he invented the penalty shot.
So yeah, to win the Lester Patrick Trophy is sort of a big deal.
Howe isn’t the first Red Wing to be so honored. The list includes Alex Delvecchio (player, 1974); Bruce Norris (owner/executive, 1976); and Mike Ilitch (owner/executive, 1991).
Longtime Red Wings coach and GM Jack Adams was the first recipient of the Lester Patrick, in 1966.
Mark Howe, 61, is the Red Wings’ Director of Pro Scouting, which means he’s GM Ken Holland’s right hand man when it comes to sniffing out possible trade and free agent targets.
Howe has four Stanley Cup rings—all as a Red Wings executive.
The Big One was elusive to Howe as a player—having made the Finals three times in his career (Philadelphia in 1985 and 1987 and Detroit in 1995) but there was always another team skating the Stanley Cup around the ice when the final horn sounded.
The bridesmaid part of Howe’s career was stomped to pieces once he took off his skates and donned wing tip shoes to work for the Red Wings in their scouting department.
Howe’s name is engraved four times on the Stanley Cup, though no doubt he’d exchange all of them to have held the Cup aloft just once as a player.
It almost happened in Detroit, where Howe signed with the Red Wings in 1993 as a 38 year-old on the back end of a career in which he was a multiple Norris Trophy finalist for best defenseman in the NHL.
After a bitter first round playoff loss in 1994, Howe returned for one last go-round, which was the strike-shortened 1995 campaign.
But the storybook ending that every Red Wings fan was hoping for—son winning his first Cup playing for the same franchise as his world-famous dad—was turned into a horror story by the maddening, left wing lock-playing New Jersey Devils, who swept the Red Wings to capture the Devils franchise’s first championship.
Howe was 40 and his winning the Stanley Cup was clearly not meant to be. He retired but stayed with the Red Wings organization, even though he played a majority of his 22-year professional hockey career with the Philadelphia Flyers and Hartford Whalers (Carolina Hurricanes).
The folks who dole out the Patrick—the NHL and USA Hockey—don’t just pull names out of a hat.
“As the Lester Patrick Award observes its 50th anniversary and the National Hockey League prepares to celebrate its Centennial, we are extremely pleased that Mark Howe and Pat Kelly are receiving this recognition for their decades of devotion to hockey in the United States,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
Kelly is the former commissioner of the East Coast Hockey League, a longtime NHL minor league affiliate.
Howe’s honor is not in recognition of his being the son of Gordie Howe. Marty Howe didn’t win the Patrick, did he?
Mark Howe is getting the Lester Patrick because he started playing organized hockey in the United States as a teenager and some 45 years later, after a stellar playing career in Houston, Hartford, Philadelphia and Detroit, he’s still a major component of one of the NHL’s legendary franchises.
Did you know that Howe is the Flyers’ all-time leader in goals and assists for a defenseman?
But despite his 10 years with the Flyers, Mark Howe will always be a Red Wing to the hockey denizens in the Motor City.
At first that designation was by proxy due to Howe’s lineage, but in the summer of 1993, then-GM Bryan Murray took a flyer (sorry) on the aging defenseman and brought him to Detroit for one last kick at the can. Mark Howe would be a real, honest-to-goodness Red Wing.
Howe’s Cup never runneth over as a Red Wings player, but in the front office the rings have been aplenty.
The Lester Patrick people have taken notice—finally.
The ceremony honoring Howe and Kelly will be November 30 in Philadelphia—as part of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction festivities.
In his book, Gordie Howe’s Son: A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow Mr. Hockey, Mark Howe answered the age old question.
“Interviewers have asked, ‘What’s it like being Gordie Howe’s son?’ I’ve always assumed it was no different than being anybody’s son who grew up in a loving, supportive family.”
That family may have lost its patriarch, but the name lives on proudly.