The 'other' great Howe
Mark Howe is one of the best players never to win a Stanley Cup or an NHL postseason award. Winner of the World Hockey Association's rookie of the year award and two championships, he played in four NHL All-Star Games and was named three times to the NHL First All-Star Team.
He shows absolutely no disappointment about being a finalist three times for the Norris Trophy and once each for the Hart Trophy and the Masterton Trophy. Instead, he readily explains why the winner won.
"Rod Langway had a great year in 1983 when he led his club into the playoffs for the first time," Howe said. "My offensive stats ate him alive, but who was more valuable to his team? He was playing 35 minutes a night and I was playing 20. He was. Paul Coffey had a monster year when he beat me in 1986; and Ray Bourque, the same thing, the next year. Wayne Gretzky won the Stanley Cup the year I was a Hart Trophy finalist. So who was more valuable to his team? Besides, there weren't any other good candidates that year! Actually, I thought being a finalist was a great honor.
"A lot has to do with judging yourself. I knew when I played well. Sometimes, maybe I was too critical. I felt I was my own toughest critic. I remember telling Mike Keenan I hadn't been playing well and he said I was his top-rated player the last 10 games."
"Mike did goal-setting with us in the summer and asked me my expectations," Mark said. "I said I wanted to get 100 points, win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy."
Howe's career blossomed when he was switched to defense after being traded from the Hartford Whalers to the Philadelphia Flyers before the 1982-83 season. He played 10 outstanding seasons for the Flyers with whom he went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1985 and 1987, losing to the Edmonton Oilers both times, before spending the final three years of his career with the Detroit Red Wings. He still works for the Wings, now as a scout.
"I was always a left wing but we were short on defensemen my first year in Houston so coach Bill Dineen paired me with Paul Popiel for a few games. Then I went back and played left wing through the rest of my career in the WHA. My fourth game with the Hartford Whalers in the NHL, I walked in and saw my name on the board with the defensemen. I thought it was joke so I erased it. Then the coach walked in and said; 'Who messed with my board?' My only beef was I was going in cold because I'd practiced at left wing in the morning skate.
"I was never taught how to play defense by anyone until I joined the Flyers and Ed Van Impe worked with me. He gave me a lot of structure, explained percentages, how to keep players on their backhand, the right way to turn in different situations, and preparation, knowing who you're going to be playing and what they like to do. One of the most important things I learned was which teammates I could trust to do the right thing if I gave them the puck.
"Other than that, most of what I learned about playing defense came from going home and watching the replay at 2 a.m. to see what I did wrong and think about what I'd do differently. Sometimes, I punched holes in the wall I was so mad at myself. I also had very good partners in Glen Cochrane and, later, Brad McCrimmon and Kjell Samuelsson. My game changed when I was partnered with Kjell. He was so tall and strong with such long arms, he'd take the man and I'd go for the puck."
There are pictures of Mark practicing with the Red Wings at age six. However, he said there was no fatherly pressure to become a hockey player. He never saw himself as trying to live up to, or eclipse, his father's accomplishments. Instead, he relished the opportunity to play alongside his father and brother, enjoyed his dad's immense popularity and sought "only" to be the best he could be.
Mark also served as the visiting-team stick boy at the Olympia, collecting a trove of autographed memorabilia.