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All in the Family




Every summer, NHL teams take their picks of the top prospects in the game. Today, the entry age is 18, but until 1979, the lower limit was 20. The reduction in the eligibility age resulted from the NHL-WHA merger since the WHA did not have a minimum draft age. The upstart league’s draft policy led to one of the most famous and unlikely examples of family member teammates.


Following the 1970-71 Gordie Howe retired after a stellar 25-year NHL career. At the time of his retirement, he was the NHL’s all-time leader in goals, assists, points, and games played. In one respect, however, his career was incomplete. For years, Mr. Hockey had dreamed of one day having the opportunity to play alongside his sons, but a wrist injury had seen to it that his dream would never come true.


There was one person who was unwilling to let the dream die. Mrs. Hockey – Gordie’s wife Colleen – had a thought. While it was true that the NHL had a rule that forbad the drafting of teenage players, she was not sure if the WHA had such a rule in place. If not, she saw a potential opening to bring her husband’s dream to life. Colleen had her secretary put in a call to WHA president Gary Davidson and asked him if there was an arrangement in place between the WHA and the U.S. and Canadian amateur associations that would prevent 19-year-old Marty and 18-year-old Mark from being drafted. The answer was no. She then placed a call to her husband’s former teammate Bill Dineen, who was coaching the Houston Aeros and told him her idea.


Dineen and his assistant Doug Harvey both liked the idea and decided to follow up on it. They also called Davidson, and upon receiving the same answer, they decided to act. The Aeros plan was to sign Goride and draft Mark and Marty in the 1973 Professional Draft on the technicality of their receiving $60 per week as members of the Toronto Marlboros junior squad. When Mark was chosen, there was an uproar, but Davidson ruled that no rules had been broken. However, Colleen Howe was not the only one that had the idea of the Howe family playing together.


Bobby Hull, who had signed with the Winnipeg Jets upon the creation of the WHA suspected something was up after Mark was chosen. He tried to convince Jets officials to draft Gordie. Hull’s idea was that if the Aeros really wanted to get all three Howes on their squad, they would at least have to pay the Jets for Gordie’s rights. Jets officials, however, did not take Hull’s concerns seriously. After the dust cleared, the Aeros had selected Mark in the first round, Marty in the third, and Gordie went unchosen. Part one of Mrs. Hockey’s plan was complete.


Next, Colleen moved on to convincing her husband that this was his chance to fulfill his dream. In order to make a comeback, Gordie would have to undergo surgery on his wrist and overcome the rust that would have developed from two years away from the game. On top of that, he was now 45 years old. Would Mr. Hockey seriously consider such an outrageous idea? Absolutely.

Gordie underwent the wrist surgery and signed a contract with the Aeros. It was time to live the dream. For a while, however, it all seemed too good to be true. Gordie felt the effects of his age, his time away from the game, and his previous injuries. For a while, it appeared that the dream would end in training camp. However, as training camp progressed, Gordie started feeling better and better, and before long, he was back into full playing form.


The Howe family’s first year in the WHA was a highly successful season. Mark won the Lou Kaplan Award as the WHA’s rookie of the year and Gordie won the newly renamed Gordie Howe award as league MVP. The Aeros as a team won the Avco Cup as league champions. As we know from history, Mr. Hockey and his boys had a few more seasons together, but the Boston Bruins made an offer that could have ended it after one year.


In the 1974 NHL Draft, the Boston Bruins selected Mark in the second round. They offered him a contract of $225,000 a year, which was a 40% increase over his WHA salary. Some things, though, are more important than money, and there was no question in Mark Howe’s mind as to what he should do. He declined the offer, deciding that playing with his father and brother was more important. The family unit would remain together.


The Howes spent three more years with the Aeros and won another Avco Cup. By the end of their stint with the Aeros, the Detroit Red Wings had developed an interest in Mark and Marty. They did not, however want Gordie as an active player. Once again, blood proved to be the most valuable asset, and the three signed with the New England Whalers. The Howes spent the last two years of the WHA’s existence with the Whalers, and then had one final season together in the NHL with the now Hartford Whalers.


In 1980, Gordie Howe retired again, this time permanently. In the last seven seasons of his career, he not only extended his legend with his still very skilled play, but fulfilled a longtime dream. Without the vision of his beloved wife, it might never have happened. Even with all the records he set and the four Stanley Cups he won, Gordie felt that the greatest part of his career was the opportunity to play with his sons. And why not? After all, blood is thicker than water.


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Nice drive down memory lane Scott. A lot of folks forgot the story of Colleen and her HUGE part in how the three Howe's ended up playing together in 'Howeston. The first lady of Hockey for awhile.


BTW Bill Dineen was given the nickname 'Foxy' by Gordie after his second year in the league when he bragged in the locker room that he had talked notorious skinflint Jack Adams into a 500 dollar raise to 7,500 a year. Gordie let him brag about it for awhile and then told Dineen that the league minimum had went up to 7,500 that year as the locker room roared. The sobriquet 'Foxy' was hung on Dineen for his negotiating skills and followed him around for life.

 Speaking of Dineen, he had quite the clan as well, three of his sons, Gord, Kevin and Pete all played in the NHL. So two former teammates from the fifties had a total of five sons with NHL careers.

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Gordie Howe wrote the foreward for the book "Bluelines and Bloodlines," and talked about this story. He talked about how little recognition his wife is given for her part. I'll go this far: If not for her, it never would have happened. What are the odds that Mark and Marty would have been chosen by the same team had they waited another year or two for the "normal" draft? Would Gordie have still been able to get himself back into shape after a couple more years? Even if he could, my first question might have prevented him from playing with both of his boys.


Nice story about Dineen too. That's funny. Lol

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