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9 things you may not know about Gordie Howe

Last Updated Jun 10, 2016 at 4:16 pm EST

FILE - This is a Nov. 1967, file photo showing Detroit Red Wings hockey player Gordie Howe. Howe, the rough-and-tumble Canadian farm boy whose boundless blend of talent and toughness made him the NHL’s quintessential star during a career that lasted into his 50s, has died. He was 88. (AP Photo/File)

Hockey legend Gordie Howe is being remembered fondly by a nation after his death at the age of 88 on Friday.

Almost anyone with a passing knowledge of hockey or Canadiana knows about his uncanny combination of brute strength and slick skill.

Here are nine things about number 9 that you may not know.

1. He was ambidextrous.

Howe may have spent most of his career patrolling the right wing, and he famously re-arranged Lou Fontinato’s facial features with a series of piston-like right hands, but he often used his ambidexterity to befuddle opponents. Using a straight blade, Howe could suddenly switch sides, shooting left when the opportunity arose. It was just another weapon in his considerable arsenal.

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2. He was dyslexic.

The seeds of Howe’s legendary toughness may very well have been planted during his early school days. Howe was dyslexic, and a poor student, and was often teased because of his struggles with reading. He wouldn’t be teased for long. As Howe’s impressive physique (see below) began to take form, he started gaining confidence and sticking up for himself. Soon he would command respect, on and off the ice.

howephysique

3. He was the only player to play pro hockey on the same team as his sons.

The World Hockey Association may have failed in its efforts to rival the NHL, but the league made headlines and turned heads when the Houston Aeros signed Gordie Howe and his two sons, Mark and Marty, in 1973. Howe was 46 years old at the time, but he still went on to score 100 points en route to being named the league’s MVP. The trophy paled in comparison to the thrill of playing with his boys. Howe called it the “the fulfillment of a dream.”

Former Detroit Red Wings great Gordie Howe, center, is flanked by sons Marty, left, and Mark as they try their new Houston Aeros uniforms in St. Clair Shores, Mich., on Aug. 3, 1973. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP - The Macomb Daily, David Posavetz *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Former Detroit Red Wings great Gordie Howe, center, is flanked by sons Marty, left, and Mark as they try their new Houston Aeros uniforms in St. Clair Shores, Mich., on Aug. 3, 1973. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP – The Macomb Daily, David Posavetz *MANDATORY CREDIT*

4. He was the only player to play pro hockey in five different decades.

Many players may have rivaled and surpassed Howe’s goal and assist totals. But his longevity will likely never be equaled. He laced them up in five different decades and played his last pro game at the age of 52, more than earning his nickname, “Mr. Hockey.”

*See number 8.

5. His signing bonus was a Red Wings team jacket

Hockey has changed considerably since Gordie Howe tried out for the Detroit Red Wings in 1944. Today, star players in their teens can become rich before they even suit up for an NHL game. That wasn’t the case when Howe signed with the Red Wings, launching his storied career. At the time, Howe was more than happy to accept his signing bonus — a team jacket.

File photo of a young Detroit Red Wings' Gordie Howe. (AP PHOTO)
File photo of a young Detroit Red Wings’ Gordie Howe. (AP PHOTO)

6. He had only two “Gordie Howe hat tricks.”

Howe had a reputation as a fearsome fighter, but he didn’t drop the gloves often. He didn’t have to. An icy glare or tooth-shattering elbow was often enough to deter any tomfoolery, and his annihilation of Rangers heavyweight Lou Fontinato (evidence below) lingered in the league’s collective consciousness for years.

New York Rangers defenseman Lou Fontinato, his nose broken and bent towards his ear, heads to the dressing room after a five minute fight with Detroit Red Wings' Gordie Howe during NHL action at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 2, 1959. The Canadian Press/AP/New York Daily News
New York Rangers defenseman Lou Fontinato, his nose broken and bent towards his ear, heads to the dressing room after a five minute fight with Detroit Red Wings’ Gordie Howe during NHL action at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 2, 1959. The Canadian Press/AP/New York Daily News

According to dropyourgloves.com, Howe fought just 32 times over his long career. And he had only two “Gordie Howe hat tricks” — a goal, assist and fight, in the same game. So who holds the record? That honour goes to rugged Rick Tocchet, who managed the feat 18 times. Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan is right behind him with 17.

7. His career almost ended before it started.

While Howe became revered for his longevity, his career was almost dramatically shortened during a game against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the first game of the Stanley Cup semifinal on March 28, 1950. The Leafs were up 4-0 when Howe tried to shake things up with some physical play. But when he targeted Leafs legend Ted “Teeder” Kennedy, things quickly went awry. Kennedy saw Howe coming, dodging the hit at the last second. Howe crashed head first into the boards, suffering a concussion and numerous fractures. More seriously, his brain began to swell, and doctors had to drill a hole in his skull to relieve the pressure. Thankfully, Howe made a full recovery.

howekennedy

8. Howe suited up for the Detroit Vipers of the IHL at age 69.

On Oct. 3, 1997, “Mr. Hockey” played his last game of semi-pro hockey. In fact, he played just two short shifts. But more than 20,000 fans still showed up to catch a glimpse of the grizzled veteran. By this time, Howe was hampered by arthritis and other ravages of time, but he still managed to almost score a goal when a puck deflected off his shin pad. He received a standing ovation. “That was beautiful,” Howe said after the game.

9. A family affair until the end.

Gordie Howe loved playing with his sons, and Mark fittingly set him up for his last NHL goal in 1980 against the Canadiens.