Howe dons No. 9 as he enters the Hall of Fame

The 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees (from left) are Doug Gilmour, former Flyers defenseman Mark Howe, Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour. Howe joined his father, Gordie.
The 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees (from left) are Doug Gilmour, former Flyers defenseman Mark Howe, Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour. Howe joined his father, Gordie. (BRUCE BENNETT / Getty Images)
Posted: November 15, 2011

TORONTO - Though he enjoyed a wonderful career in the NHL, former Flyers defenseman Mark Howe must consider himself an essential victim of the game's all-time greatest player.

It was Howe's misfortune to be starring in Philadelphia at a time when Wayne Gretzky ruled the hockey universe. As such, the Flyers lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1985 and 1987 Stanley Cup Finals. But Howe made it clear last night that the championship defeats are hardly his biggest regret.

"I want to pass along my thoughts and prayers to the families that lost relatives in the tragic plane crash [in Yaroslavl, Russia] of Sept. 7, 2011," Howe said Monday night as he began his Hockey Hall of Fame induction speech. "I'm hoping all families of the victims receive full compensation, which hasn't yet been the case. I find that morally upsetting. The hockey world should do all it can to get things right."

The tragedy took the life of Howe's former teammate on defense, Brad McCrimmon, head coach of the Kontinental Hockey League team Lokomotiv. The plane crash, which occurred on takeoff, killed 44 people and obliterated the KHL roster.

Howe and McCrimmon formed one of the most effective blue-line tandems in NHL history; hockey fans still marvel over Howe's posting a plus-85 and McCrimmon a plus-83 during the 1985-86 season, when Howe recorded a career-high 82 points and was voted to the first all-star team.

"I'm happy to have Marie McCrimmon here tonight," Howe said, acknowledging McCrimmon's widow. "It makes my evening complete."

It is a measure of Howe's character that he would begin his address by mentioning the airline disaster. After all, he is a son of the legendary Gordie Howe, whose NHL scoring records endured for two decades before Gretzky demolished them. Gordie Howe retired in 1971 after 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, only to make a comeback two years later with Houston of the old World Hockey Association. His incentive? Playing on a forward unit with sons Mark and Marty.

Gordie was in attendance last night; his wife and business partner, Colleen, died in March 2009 after a long struggle with dementia.

"To my mother . . . oh, how I wish you could have been here today," Mark said. "Somehow, though, I think [you] knew this day would happen."

Howe concluded his induction speech dramatically. While looking directly at his father, he said: "I don't know if you remember this, Dad, but just after I retired, 16 years ago, you mentioned you wished I would have worn your No. 9 Red Wings jersey just for one game. You've never asked me for anything in your lifetime so I'd like to honor your request, at this time, on a much-bigger stage."

With that, Howe pulled on a red Detroit jersey with his father's famous number over his sport jacket, drawing an emotional, lengthy cheer.

Mark Howe played in the NHL with Hartford, the Flyers, and Detroit (where he wore No. 2) from 1979 to 1995. Always clever with the puck, he registered 742 points in 929 regular-season games.

He entered the Hall last night with Doug Gilmour, Ed Belfour and Joe Nieuwendyk.

Flyers chairman Ed Snider told reporters, "If a guy's good enough for the Hall of Fame, he's good enough to have his number retired."

That means Howe's No. 2 soon will be hanging from the Wells Fargo Center rafters.

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