The last goal he ever scored

I know almost as much about Gordie Howe as I do about Muhammad Ali. Which is to say, not very much about either of them. Or maybe what I really mean is I care about as little about Gordie Howe as I do about Muhammad Ali except that Gordie Howe was more of a presence (as limited as it was) in my life than the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay. I always thought Cassius Clay was a rather improbable name because what better name could there be for a boxer? But it was in fact his real name until his conversion to Islam in 1964 when he decided there was a better name for a boxer. But I digress.

As you probably know, Gordie Howe played in the NHL for 26 seasons starting in 1946. That means there were at least seven years when I watched him on the ice while being held hostage by Hockey Night in Canada since it was the only thing broadcast to our corner of the woods on Saturday night in prime time. Then if you were completely bored, you could stay tuned for The Juliette Show that came on live right after the hockey game at whatever time it ended.

I’m guessing Juliette sat around in her party dress eating bonbons while waiting for Gordie to win one for the Red Wings without going into overtime. Today, of course, it would all have been prerecorded and Juliette could have done other things with her Saturday night. A fun fact about Juliette: because her show was in black and white, she had to tell the audience the colour of her dress (which was always different from week to week). The Juliette Show was also in the top 10 of all Canadian programming in its time, although part of that was the obvious audience bleed-over from Hockey Night in Canada and I’m not sure that ‘Canadian top 10’ would be considered a huge accomplishment in the wider scheme of things. By the way, Juliette is still alive and kicking at 89. Take that, Gordie.

In my extensive research for this post perhaps the most interesting thing I learned was the existence of the ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’: a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game – clearly a hallmark of a well-rounded hockey player, although apparently he only achieved two of his eponymous hat tricks in his entire career. On the plus side, I would venture to say that this is probably one of his records that Wayne Gretzky did not break or even meet.

I don’t know what Gordie thought about NHL broadcast rights being wrangled from the clutches of CBC by Rogers in 2014. But he probably would care that ratings for the Stanley Cup playoffs this year are down 44% and there has been a similar decline in regular season ratings. Like many things in the sports and entertainment universe, hockey ain’t what it used to be. Apparently audience research has shown that Hockey Night in Canada needs to be modernized to improve its appeal to Millennials. What that looks like I have no idea and clearly neither does Rogers. But at least Gordie has been spared the trauma of dealing with the ‘hipification’ of something as mundane as a hockey game.

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