“You find that you have peace of mind and can enjoy yourself, get more sleep, and rest when you know that it was a 100% effort that you gave—win or lose.” – Gordie Howe
So Mr. Hockey has died at the age of 88. He broke many records in the NHL and was only outdone by The Great One years later. With a career that lasted into his 50s, including 26 years in the NHL, and a physical style of grit and determination, he is definitely one of the greatest players of all time. Even Gretzky thinks Howe is better than himself.
My personal story of this hockey legend will always involve one particular moment: an early, early version of the Ice Bucket Challenge involving a stick.
The details are a bit murky and I may over-exaggerate things a bit, but this is a short anecdote of my first experience with really anyone well-known.
The place: Optimist Ice Arena. The year: maybe 1995.
It was at an old-timers game for players as old as 70. Me, my mom, and uncle were sitting near the glass because it was either free admission or tickets were super cheap (five dollars likewise). This game featured some of the greats from the NHL of past though I had no conscience feeling of what was going on or who was there. I was about 3 or 4 here and looked down at the bench most of the time, not interested in the action on the ice. I’m not even sure it was a competitive game but just something for the players to reunite and laugh it up a bit.
The score of the game I cannot even theorize. Who was on what side is quite irrelevant.
The hockey old-timers were racing down the ice when one of them suddenly stopped near the glass where we were sitting. I was prompted to look up at the player and felt a sense of chill as he stared back at me. Something was up. Something was going to happen. A few seconds passed before he scooped up some ice shavings on the end of his blade, lifted the fiberglass stick, and shook it over the board. A shower of cold ice fell down on my head. Like being in a freezing shower but worse. I instantly cried and buried my hands in my arms. The player just stared at me and then said “Sorry, kid” before skating on. Little did I know that I had just met Detroit Red Wings great Gordie Howe.
I remember leaving the arena with my relatives and they chatting away about the moment. I’ve have a number of encounters with famous athletes, including getting NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson’s autograph and picture back in 2004 before he even won any of his championships. But this one with Mr. Hockey is really special because he seemed to connect with me personally during that short minute or two. I wonder if he ever had memories of that afterward or later on in life. It would be neat to have had a part of me stuck in a notable person’s mind. Maybe he mentioned this in his personal book – “I shook some ice on a fair haired, blue-eyed kid during a pick me up game with some of my old hockey friends and foes. He cried and whined and I just thought it was a bit funny. Not for him.”
So is an origin story of my brush with greatness.