Howe remains Gretzky's idol

ON THE NHL

January 25, 1994|By SANDRA McKEE

In 26 seasons, Gordie Howe scored 801 goals. Wayne Gretzky, in his 14th season, is 15 short of claiming the goal-scoring record.

"I wish they'd put an asterisk beside my name," said Gretzky. "I wish they'd point out it was a different era, because I think if Gordie Howe played now, he'd have 1,100 goals.

"He was such a unique player. In this era, the way we play today, he'd dominate like a Mark Messier or an Eric Lindros. He had such great hands and with his size, and the way they're cutting down on hooking and holding, he'd be all over the net."

But Gretzky added, "I hope I get the record soon, and I hope I get it in L.A."

His feelings are mixed. To Gretzky, there is no greater player than Howe, his boyhood hero.

His hockey memories are wrapped up in the man who played so long for Detroit and then wrapped up his career in Hartford at age 52.

He remembers a Howe sweater at Christmas when he was 5.

"Santa brought it, and it was my best Christmas ever," Gretzky said. "I wore it around for a whole year. I put it on, and I don't think I bothered to open any other presents. It made my Christmas. It made my life."

The first meeting, when he was 10, as vivid as if it was last week.

"How many childhood heroes or idols stand up to being met in person?" Gretzky said. "A lot of kids walk away saying he's not that great, he's not that nice or he's just OK. I was 10 when I met him, and he was bigger and better than I ever imagined."

And then, when he was 17 and playing in his first All-Star Game, there was Howe, his teammate, telling him to go to the net.

"I was on his line, and you know, when you're 17 years old and sitting beside Gordie Howe and he tells you to go get in front of the net and he'll get you the puck, you kinda just go do it," Gretzky said. "Nine seconds later, we scored. I remember coming back to the bench and him shaking my hand."

When he scores that 802nd goal, Gretzky said he wants his father, his wife and Gordie Howe there.

"That kid's been chasing my record for 10 years," Howe said with a laugh. "He's going to get it, too, and that's good. Records are made to be broken, and if it's done by people you respect, you feel much better about it."

Television rules

Not to discredit New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter's selection as MVP of the NHL's 45th All-Star Game, but the process was ridiculous. League public relations officials insisted the vote be made with seven minutes left in the game "because TV has to be able to announce it before they sign off."

Richter was not a bad choice. But what would have happened if Ottawa rookie Alexei Yashin had scored the tying and winning goals for the East? What if New York Islander Pierre Turgeon, who had four assists, had scored the game-winner?

If the answer is that league officials would have dumped the ballots and gone with the obvious choice, then the vote is a mockery. As it is, voting with seven minutes left to please TV interests is a shame.

Might as well just let the TV producer pick the MVP and be done with it, if the integrity of the vote matters so little.

Portland streak ends

The Portland Pirates (formerly the Baltimore Skipjacks) had their five-game unbeaten streak ended Sunday night in a 3-1 loss at Hamilton, Ontario. The Pirates are a combined 0-5-2 against Ontario teams (Hamilton and Cornwall). Portland gets a final whack at Cornwall tomorrow.

The Pirates continue to lead the AHL Northern Division, but Friday Adirondack, Portland's top challenger, comes to the Pirates' home ice.

Byron Dafoe is second among AHL goaltenders, with a 3.08 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. Center Jeff Nelson is leading the team in scoring with 20 goals and 37 assists.

Week's best

Detroit Red Wing Ray Sheppard has been named Player of the Week for his five-point week that ended Sunday. Sheppard, who is second in team scoring to Sergei Fedorov, had four points (two goals, two assists) in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay and one assist in a 4-4 tie with Anaheim.

Sheppard beat out Toronto defenseman Dave Ellett (2-35) and Philadelphia center Eric Lindros (3-14) for the award.

Canadian difference

Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray hails from the province of Quebec and can empathize with Nordiques coach Pierre Page.

Page and his team have been getting heated criticism from fans and local newspapers recently. The Nordiques ended a six-game losing streak before the All-Star break and are in fifth place in the Northeast Division, five points out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Fans have been showing up at Le Colisee with signs suggesting owner Marcel Aubut get rid of Page. Other fans put bags over their heads, and all of them boo their Nordiques and cheer for opposing teams.

TC "Hockey is so under the microscope [in Quebec]," said Murray. "The sport, the only sport, in Quebec is hockey. Every fan recognizes every one of those players. Every move the team makes is analyzed and criticized. It's a very different place, and it's tough for a coach and general manager [and Page is both]. You have to please a whole city every time you put someone on the ice."

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