Gordie Howe, Saskatchewan’s most famous hockey icon, always said records were meant to be broken, according to his son, Murray Howe.
And if Gordie were alive today, Murray said, he’d be excited to see another Saskatchewan native, Patrick Marleau, break his longtime record for most NHL games played — expected to happen Monday night in Las Vegas, barring anything unforeseen.
“I think he’d be very thrilled and the first out on the ice to applaud Patrick on this really incredible milestone,” Murray said.
Gordie Howe, who had the nickname Mr. Hockey, set the record of 1,767 NHL games played before he retired in 1980 at age 52. Howe died in 2016 when he was 88.
Marleau tied the record Saturday night in Minnesota.
Murray said he’s also happy to see his dad’s record will be broken by Marleau, someone lauded for the same dedication, passion and humility as Gordie Howe, who “never put himself up on a pedestal.”
“[Marleau] is a class act,” he said. “Just in the same way that Gretzky broke Dad’s scoring records, it was great to see it accomplished by someone who was humble and dedicated to the game and grateful for the things that he had.”
As Monday approaches, Marleau’s family is also cheering him on, from the Saskatchewan farm where he first fell in love with the game.
Shooting pucks by the barn
Marleau grew up on his parent’s farm near Aneroid, Sask., 250 kilometres southwest of Regina.
His mother, Jeanette, a retired teacher, remembers how her two sons, Richard and Patrick, would play mini-stick hockey in the kitchen on her linoleum floor.
“If I would wax [the floor], they would use their socks and they would polish it at the same time. They’d be playing hockey and [polishing],” she said.
Richard took masking tape and spelled out “NHL” on the back of their jerseys.
“There were a lot of battles on the kitchen floor. It seemed like we’d just get wound up on a Saturday night when Hockey Night in Canada would start playing … and then Mom would say ‘Oh no, it’s time for bed’ just when things got really good,” he said, with a chuckle.
But Marleau’s singular focus on honing his skills began to set him apart from other young players.
His father, Denis, who still farms at age 74, remembers how Patrick would haul an ice cream container full of pucks out to the barn and practice his shot off a sheet of plywood.
“You’d always knew where he was on the farm. You could hear this bang, bang — the pucks hitting the boards,” said Denis. “We didn’t have to tell him to do anything about hockey. He just loved it.”
At Christmas one year, Marleau’s parents gave him an instructional video by Mario Lemieux, his favourite player, on VHS and he played it over and over.
“I’m sure he wore that tape out. He watched it for hours,” said Denis.
Hard work and a bit of luck
Marleau was selected by San Jose in the 1997 NHL Draft.
The team’s veteran goaltender Kelly Hrudey said he saw something special in the young rookie and so he, along with his wife Donna and three daughters, invited Marleau to live in their guesthouse. Hrudey said he could tell that Marleau was raised by his parents to be kind, and he hasn’t changed today.
“Very, very humble. For all that he’s accomplished, and things he’s done in his career and all the money he’s made, to me he hasn’t changed,” said Hrudey.
The NHL analyst for Sportsnet credits Marleau’s long career to his unique combination of skill, smarts, and passion, as well as Marleau’s intense off-ice training and a bit of luck that have helped him escape injury.
“He’s had a body that just refuses to break down and that’s what’s very, very rare,” said Hrudey.
On Thursday, Marleau spoke to reporters in a virtual press conference.
“I just love being out there and playing. Obviously every kid’s dream is to hoist that Stanley Cup, so I’ve been chasing it all this time,” said Marleau. He has yet to win a NHL championship.
Marleau, who didn’t mention retirement, said he hopes he’ll be remembered as a player who loved the game, his team, and winning.
“Ya know, I gave it my all,” he said.
Murray Howe, a physician who now lives in Toledo, Ohio, said his dad Gordie had the same attitude and was never driven or distracted by his statistics or records.
“It is more about doing what he loves and feeling fortunate that he could do it as long as he could and do it at the level that he did,” he said.
“When Dad finally hung up the blades, he knew he left everything out on the ice and I think he’s equally proud of anyone who does the same thing out on the ice, including Gretzky and Patrick [Marleau].”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bonnie Allen is a senior reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. Before returning to Canada in 2013, Allen spent four years reporting from across Africa, including Libya, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. She holds a master’s in international human rights law from the University of Oxford. @bonnieallenCBC
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