When your father is arguably the greatest all around hockey player in the history of the game, it couldn’t have been easy to skate away from that large shadow.
But with his talent and determination, as the son of Gordie Howe, somehow Mark Howe was able to do just that and also have the unique opportunity to play professional hockey with his dad and brother Marty.
Growing up in Lathrup Village with Marty, younger brother Murray, and sister Cathy, being a Howe certainly had its advantages for Mark but at the same time as a kid at times he had a target on his back.
More than once I’m sure Mark heard the comment, “You’re never going to be as good as your old man.”
In a wide-ranging interview last year, Mark shared memories of his life and hockey career.
“After I did my homework at school, I walked home and all I did was play hockey at the rink my parents built at our house,” Howe said. “I would play before and after dinner and until I had to go to bed. When I was 14 the Red Wings started letting me take part in scrimmages at their camp in Port Huron. I was a rink rat and probably spent more time at Olympia Stadium than anybody who worked there. I was lucky to have been a stick boy in the visitor’s locker-room when I was 12. I’ll never forget seeing Stan Mikita of the Blackhawks spend half an hour preparing his wicked curve stick with a blowtorch and a rasp. It was a work of art. I collected sticks and autographs. One time I was in the Toronto locker-room working and Eddie Shack started singing the song, Gordie Howe Is the Greatest of Them All. All the players laughed and I got embarrassed and ran out. There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to play in the NHL and fortunately I was good enough to do so.”
After starring with brother Marty playing youth hockey in Detroit, at age 16 Mark became the youngest hockey player to win an Olympic hockey medal when the U.S. team unexpectedly beat Czechoslovakia and grabbed silver at the 1972 games in Sapporo, Japan.
“I had played with the Junior Red Wings against the U.S. Olympic team at Olympia Stadium in December. Three weeks later the Olympic team coach Murray Williamson invited me to try out and I made it. It was the first time I’d been away from home and I had to take about six weeks off from school. I was pretty nervous about it but it was a great experience. I was 16, and half the guys were 25 years old but they were pretty good to me. It all happened so fast and was kind of a blur. Looking back, I appreciate it even more now.
“We were trying to have a 50-year reunion but we had to put it off because of COVID. In a group email guy were reminiscing about what they did when they got back after the Olympics. Everyone was talking about how they were in parades and such and they asked me what I did. I said my alarm went off at 7:30 am and I had to be at class at 8:15. They got a big chuckle out of that. Later at my high school Southfield Lathrup they had Mark Howe Day.”
After joining Marty to play junior hockey with the Toronto Marlboros and winning the 1973 Memorial Cup as the tournament MVP, the brothers and their dad signed contracts to play for the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association.
As an 18-year-old in his first pro season, Mark earned Rookie of the Year honors after scoring 38 goals. His play helped Houston capture the Avco Cup for the first of two consecutive championships. Later, all three of the Howe’s moved on to the New England Whalers.
“In our first year I remember dad saying, Tthis isn’t like real hockey, it shouldn’t be this much fun.’ Dad, Marty, and I loved it. When we played together, he told me, ‘Get your ass to an empty spot and I’ll get you the puck’ and that’s what he did.”
“We had great chemistry together,” Howe remembered. “Sometimes he’d just look at me and I would look at him and I knew what he was thinking. He’d want me to go somewhere after a face off to do this or that without saying a word or tipping it off. I played with [Dad] from when he was 45 to 52 and the first year with Houston, he was the league MVP with 31 goals and 100 points. He still would have been one of the upper echelon of players in the NHL. It is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in sports. [Dad] was so damn strong, and his endurance was incredible.
“When provoked, he was the most brutal player on the ice I’ve ever seen. In our first exhibition game, first shift, a guy went after him and Dad two handed him right over the head and laid him out. I was so fortunate to have played six years on his line [and] at the same time play with Marty.”
When the Whalers and three other WHA teams merged into the NHL in 1979, Mark converted from left wing to defense for the newly named Hartford Whalers.
After the 1981-1982 season, Mark was traded to Philadelphia, where over ten seasons he established himself as one of the league’s best defensemen. The junior Howe helped the Flyers to two Stanley Cup Finals.
In 1992, the three-time Norris trophy runner-up, and three-time first team All Star, signed as a free agent with Detroit. He retired in 1995 after the Wings were swept in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Upon his retirement after 22 pro hockey seasons, Mark Howe was retained by the Wings to serve as a scout. Eventually, his name was engraved on the Stanley Cup four times, just like his father. In June of 2021, Mark quietly retired as the Director of Pro Scouting after serving 26 seasons in the Red Wing front office.
In 2003, Mark was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“When I got the call, it was Jim Gregory from the Hockey Hall of Fame, and he told me I was elected,” Howe said. “The thought never entered my mind. My heart went to my belly, it was unbelievable. It meant more to me to be able to use the platform at the induction ceremony to thank my family, the organizations I played for, and especially my dad and mother.
“I have always told my children: that it’s not about you, it’s the people around you. Because without them you can’t get anywhere. I wished my mom could have been there because she was the one who took me to all the rinks and ran the house. I couldn’t have asked to have better parents. Six weeks after I retired from playing, my dad said, ‘I wish you would have worn number nine once.’ So, at the end of my speech, I put on a Gordie Howe jersey to honor him.”