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The mystique of the Gordie Howe hat trick

October 29, 2008 11:15 AM | Posted by   Jeff Marek  

In a game against the Edmonton Oilers last week, Colorado Avalanche winger Ian Laperriere collected what we all now refer to as “the Gordie Howe hat trick” - a goal, assist and fight in a single game.

We’ve seen this before, mainly with players like Laperriere, Brendan Shanahan and Jarome Iginla. It’s an unofficial stat mainly kept by writers as a way to describe a player who did a little bit of everything in a single game.

But where did it come from?

Who was the first to coin the phrase “Gordie Howe hat trick” and maybe more importantly, why?

Demystifying the legend

One of hockey’s great researchers of all time, Paul Patskou shares with me a dogged pursuit to demystify some beliefs we all have about the game we love.

Myths like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull being the first players to use curved sticks (Cy Denneny of the Ottawa Senators experimented with one in the 1920s), or how after Jacques Plante put on a mask, he never went in net without one again (he took it off later the same year he was struck).

And this brings us around to Mr. Hockey.

I have nothing personal against Gordie Howe and would rank him, like many others, in the top five players to ever lace up the blades. Howe was a great skater with a hard, accurate shot (heck, he could shoot both left and right). He was tough, hit for keeps and played the game the way many believe it should be played.

And to this day he remains a nice man and an excellent ambassador for the game of hockey.

However, like many of you, I’m curious where the phrase Gordie Howe hat trick came from. He was not the first player to register a goal, assist and fight in a game, that distinction belongs to Toronto Arena’s Harry Cameron who did so on Dec. 26, 1917. Yes, he did it on Boxing Day, how appropriate.

A surprising number

Howe didn’t accomplish the feat the most times, either. For a while Rick Tocchet held the unofficial record, which has since been broken, we believe, by both Shanahan and Iginla. In fact, Howe, as you will see below, only accomplished the “trick” twice.

Yes, twice.

Heck, Sidney Crosby is half way there already.

Perhaps the term is more symbolic than anything, indicative of a spirit as opposed to a fact.

Nonetheless, in order to try and put this issue to bed, here is the list of Howe’s confirmed NHL fights with brief analysis of some based on limited video evidence and newspaper reports.

We could find no evidence of any fights during his time in the World Hockey Association. There was one major penalty on record during a brawl on Nov. 1, 1976, that involved his son Marty, but that may have been a third-man-in call as Gordie threw the player off his son.

Oct. 20, 1946
Howe vs. Bill Ezinicki (Maple Leafs)
Ezinicki peppered Howe with jabs and stopped only when referee King Clancy said if he continued he’d be fined $25.

Nov. 11, 1947
Howe vs. Murray Henderson (Bruins)

Dec.10, 1947
Howe vs. Bill Ezinicki (Maple Leafs)
Both men swung freely until other skaters jumped in and piled on. It was compared to a Frank Tunney promoted tag team wrestling match at the Maple Leaf Gardens.

Feb. 3, 1948
Howe vs. Gaye Stewart (Blackhawks)

April 10, 1948
Howe vs. Howie Meeker (Maple Leafs)
Gordie fired three quick punches that all landed on Meeker’s head to end the fight.

Nov. 3, 1948
Howe vs. Gus Mortson (Maple Leafs)
This was during an all-star game. Mortson had lost his stick and hit Howe, who was charging hard to the net. Gordie got up and started flailing at his opponent. The officials broke it up before Mortson could muster much of a defence.

Jan. 30, 1949
Howe vs. Maurice Richard (Canadiens)
By all accounts this was a doozy. Both men crashed into each other and came up swinging. After being separated, both got free and started fighting again. Richard was still fuming as he went to the penalty box, but not before he fired off another punch, this one at Detroit winger Sid Abel that grazed referee King Clancy’s face. That punch earned the Rocket a misconduct.

Dec. 11, 1949
Howe vs. Fred Shero (Rangers)
The pair continued to fight in the penalty box until MSG police calmed things down

March 28, 1950
Howe vs. Bill Juzda (Maple Leafs)
Juzda picked Howe up and body slammed him after eating a punch.

Nov. 11, 1950
Howe vs. Bill Juzda (Maple Leafs)
The rematch saw Juzda out box and wrestle the bigger Howe.

Jan. 21, 1951
Howe vs. Fern Flaman (Maple Leafs)
Flaman was a tough fighter. This one started after Howe brought his stick down on Flaman’s shoulder.

Dec. 2, 1951
Howe vs. Fern Flaman (Maple Leafs)
Started as a hit from behind by Howe, followed by stick swinging. Flaman started firing off punches, Howe landed only one. Hall of Fame official George Hayes bear-hugged Flaman to end the fight.

Nov. 8, 1952
Howe vs. Tim Horton (Maple Leafs)
Gordie tried to fire off punches, but Horton body slammed him to the ice.

Oct. 10, 1953
Howe vs. Fern Flaman (Maple Leafs)
This fight started with high sticks and quickly turned into punches with both men landing. This was Howe’s first “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” as he assisted on the games first goal, scored by Leonard “Red” Kelly and then scored himself a few minutes later.

Nov. 22, 1953
Howe vs. Aldo Guidolin (Rangers)
This fight highlighted a very rough second period.

March 21, 1954
Howe vs. Ted Kennedy (Maple Leafs)
Howe’s high stick sliced Kennedy’s ear for eight stitches, which led to the Leaf lighting Howe up in a spirited fight. This was the second time Howe would record the his namesake’s hat trick as he scored the game’s first goal in the opening frame and then assisted on Ted Lindsay’s 25th and 26th goals of the season in the third period.

Dec. 16, 1956
Howe vs. Ron Ingram (Blackhawks)

Feb. 2, 1957
Howe vs. Larry Cahan (Rangers)
This was a battle. Both players started fighting as the buzzer sounded to start the second period. Each landed big blows and wrestled to the ice. Howe was busted open and needed stitches. Cahan received two five-minute majors for fighting to go along with a 10-minute misconduct and a $25 fine. Howe received a two-minute minor for high sticking and a five for fighting.

Feb. 1, 1959
Howe vs. Lou Fontinato (Rangers)
This was the fight that cemented Howe’s reputation as a tough guy. Fontinato, a native of Guelph, Ont., had a major league reputation as the NHL’s top policeman until he met Howe. Both men exchanged punches for a full minute until it was stopped with both men still on their feet. Fontinato’s nose was mangled and pushed so far over to the right side of his face it looked like he ran the 100-yard dash in a 90-yard gym.

March 15, 1962
Howe vs. Dick Meissner (Bruins)
A spirited bout by newspaper accounts. Marcel Pronovost and Charlie Burns also squared off.

Nov. 8, 1964
Howe vs. Ralph Backstrom (Canadiens)

Feb. 28, 1965
Howe vs. Noel Picard (Canadiens)
Interesting fight. Picard got Howe down to the ice in a corner and pulled his jersey over his head, landing two good punches in the process. He then let Howe up and Gordie fired off two solid rights that rocked the rookie who backed off and the fight was over.

Now, many would point at the Gordie Howe/Mike Walton skirmish at the 1968 all-star game, but that was not a full-blown fight as both men simply received roughing minors.

And there you have it.

2,450 games played.
1,767 regular season NHL games.
157 NHL playoff games.
419 WHA regular season games.
78 WHA playoff games.
32 seasons.
22 confirmed fights.

And two Gordie Howe hat tricks - Oct. 10, 1953 and March 21, 1954.

Is it time, perhaps, we looked at renaming this feat?