SPOTLIGHT: MARK HOWE

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

Though three of the four inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night played with the hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, it was former New England and Hartford Whalers left wing/defenseman Mark Howe who stole the show.

Leading a quartet of greats to the podium that also included goalie Ed Belfour and forwards Joe Nieuwendyk and Doug Gilmour, Howe ended his five-minute speech by fulfilling a request of his Hall of Fame father, Gordie “Mr. Hockey” Howe. Not long after Mark retired in 1995 following a 21-year pro career that ended with the Detroit Red Wings, for whom his dad started his record 32-year run, Gordie told his son he had had just one unfulfilled wish.

So moments before exiting the stage, Mark said, “I guess there’s one person left to thank in this building. I’m not going to thank you for being my linemate for six years. I’m not going to thank you for elbowing the guy who may have taken a dirty shot at me. I’m not going to thank you for being the greatest hockey player ever. I want to thank you for being the husband, the father and the person that you are. You’re the role model by which I tried to lead my life. I’m so proud to call you my dad.

“I don’t know if you remember this or not, dad, but just after I retired – the key word is after – you mentioned that you wished that I would have worn your No. 9 Red Wing jersey for just one game, and I said your timing was pretty bad. You’ve never asked me for anything ever in your life, so I’d like to honor your request at this time on a much bigger stage.”

Mark, dressed to the nines in a tuxedo with a sharp looking bow-tie and vest combination, then reached into a bag, pulled out a replica of Gordie’s No. 9 Red Wings jersey and pulled it over his head as the crowd rose, applauded and roared its approval for more than a minute.

“Dad, I love you. Thank you,” Mark said and then gave his father, seated in the front row, a thumbs-up. The 83-year-old Gordie then approached the podium and shook and patted his 56-year-old son’s hand.

“Congratulations to Mark, to Gordie and the entire Howe family,” emcee James Duthie of TSN said. “That was wonderful.”

Wonderful indeed for the sixth father-son tandem to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but the first to play together on the same team.

Mark began his remarks by congratulating the other three inductees and thanking the selection committee and Hockey Hall of Fame staff before passing along his thoughts and prayers for the families who lost loved ones in the tragic Sept. 7 plane crash in Russia. Most were members of the Yaroslav Lokomotiv team in the Kontinental Hockey League and included coach Brad McCrimmon, who formed one of the NHL’s best defensive pairings with Howe with the Philadelphia Flyers. Howe said McCrimmon’s widow, Maureen, sitting in the audience with the Howe family “makes my evening complete.”

“I hope the families of these victims will receive full compensation for their losses, which is not the case at this time,” Howe said. “I find this morally upsetting. The families have suffered the loss of their loved ones and should not have to suffer financially as well. The hockey world should do all that it can to make things right.”

The audience applauded those sentiments, and the Connecticut Whale’s wives and girlfriends will be doing their part by selling red silicone “Love for Lokomotiv” bracelets at games at the XL Center on Dec. 9 against Hershey and Dec. 10 against Providence. In a united effort to show support for the grieving families of the Lokomotiv tragedy, hockey wives and girlfriends around the world are raising money for their friends. All proceeds will go to the foundation set up in honor of the lost team.

Mark, finally voted in after a 19-year wait, recalled being in the locker room of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs and seeing Bobby Hull and the Chicago Blackhawks when they came to Detroit.

“It was like Christmas,” Mark said.

Mark said players that he was fortunate to meet as his father was playing his way to the Hall of Fame inspired his dream to play professional hockey. Mark thanked his former coaches, including former Whalers coach Bill Dineen, many of his former teammates and front-office staff and mother Colleen, who died in 2009 of Pick’s disease after being the manager and agent for the Howe family, which was honored by the Whale on March 30 with a “Hockey’s First Family” banner being raised to the XL Center rafters. In 1973, Gordie “unretired” a year after he entered the Hall of Fame to play with Mark and Marty with the World Hockey Association’s Houston Aeros, who won two AVCO Cup titles. They then took their act to Hartford, where Gordie ended his career with the Whalers at age 52, an NHL record.

“Playing alongside my brother and father is a memory I will always cherish,” Mark said.

Mark later played with the Flyers and Red Wings, finishing with 197 goals and 545 assists in 929 NHL games, after getting 208 goals and 296 assists in 426 WHA games. He has been with the Red Wings for nearly two decades, winning four Stanley Cup rings in the last 16 years as a scout and now director of pro scouting.

“I got to end my career in the uniform that my father so proudly wore for 25 years, something I dreamt of as a young child,” said Mark, a four-time NHL All-Star and three-time Norris Trophy finalist. “I’m truly blessed to be a proud member of one of the best organizations in all of sport for the past 19 years.”

Howe also thanked his first wife, Ginger, “for bringing the three kids into his world and the commitment she made to them as a mother,” sister Kathy, brothers Murray, a doctor, and Marty, a teammate for 19 years, wife Sharon, his three children (Travis, Nolan and Azia) and, finally, his father.

Mark had some special words for Marty, who still lives with his family in Glastonbury and is often visited by his dad and siblings.

“Marty is so much a part of this evening,” Mark said. “You looked out for me, protected me. You’re my big brother and my best friend.”

Mark said he knows how his three kids felt “because I watched my father be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972. The three of you are the most important people in my life. I am so proud to be your father. I love you all very, very much.”

Mark said how he wished his mother could have been there and thanked her for everything, including teaching him how to be the son of Gordie Howe.

Then there was Gordie, who continued to cast a shadow, even on his son’s special night.

“As you see, we’re doing interviews and he has a much bigger crowd than I,” Mark quipped in front of a small group of reporters who were peering at his father surrounded by cameras and microphones. “The first day in the hotel 50 people came up and asked for autographs. They all asked for Gordie while Marty and I just sat there. That comes with the territory … part of being Gordie Howe’s son is that you are always in the backdrop.”

There also were heart-felt speeches and plenty of thank-yous by Belfour, Nieuwendyk and Gilmour, who ended on a poignant note by thanking the late Pat Burns, who was Gilmour’s coach in Toronto. Gilmour said earlier in the day he worried about getting emotional during his speech, and he did when he mentioned Burns, the former Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils coach who died of cancer in 2010.

“We all miss him,” Gilmour said. “The league misses him. More importantly, we think he’ll be here (in the Hockey Hall of Fame) one day.”

It was a touching way to end the proceedings.

SABRES’ STAR MILLER OUT INDEFINITELY; LUCIC NOT SUSPENDED

Buffalo Sabres star goalie Ryan Miller isn’t expected to play for a while, after he sustained a concussion when hit by Milan Lucic with 6:48 left in the first period of a 6-2 loss to the Bruins on Saturday night.

Lucic and Miller were going after a puck, and they collided inside the faceoff circle. Miller swung his stick at Lucic while sitting on the ice as some of his teammates made an attempt to go after the Bruins’ rugged wing. Miller stayed in until the end of the second period, when he allowed three goals on 10 shots and then was replaced by Jhonas Enroth. Miller did not play Monday night in Montreal, with Sabres general manager Darcy Regier telling The Buffalo News that he hoped Lucic was suspended for the hit.

“If this hit and other types of hits like this are not suspended, we are opening up the possibility of losing goaltenders to injury,” Regier said. “And not just injury, but concussion. … When I look at the position of goaltending, in a lot of ways it’s not unlike quarterback in football. I feel very strongly the protection has to be provided and players committing these types of action should be punished. The last thing we need to do in the NHL is to be losing our stars to concussions on plays like this.”

Pittsburgh Penguins All-Star center Sidney Crosby and New York Rangers All-Star defenseman Marc Staal have been sidelined long-term by post-concussion symptoms, and their return dates remain uncertain.

After the game, Miller (5-6-0, 2.86 goals-against average, .909 save percentage) was highly critical of Lucic, who was given a charging penalty.

“(Lucic has) 50 pounds on me and he runs me like that? It’s unbelievable,” Miller said. “Everyone in this city (Boston) sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he played. That was gutless. Gutless.”

When read Miller’s quote by NHL.com, Lucic said: “He came out of his net. I was going full speed. There’s not much I can do. So that’s basically it.”

After practice Monday, Lucic said, “At first, I was skating as hard as I could after the puck and I looked up and he was still in his net. And when I looked down at the puck, I was continuing on and the next thing I look up and he’s coming out full speed at me. Obviously it was a hard collision, and I did everything I could just to brace myself. Like he said, I have 50 pounds on him. So that’s probably why he might’ve got the worst of it. Even if you look at the video, I was cringing after the play, too, because I was winded, because it was such a hard collision. He got a good piece of me as well and that’s pretty much it.”

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Miller was suffering from a “little bit of a sore neck” and was disappointed there was only a minor penalty on Lucic.

“I thought it was a major,” Ruff said. “I thought if it’s open season on the goalies, then let’s get at it.”

Miller was replaced on the roster by Drew MacIntyre, called up from the Rochester Americans. On Monday night, MacIntyre backed up Enroth, who made 25 saves in regulation and overtime and then stopped two of three shootout attempts as the Sabres rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Canadiens, 3-2. New Canaan native and former New Canaan High and Taft School-Watertown standout Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole each had a goal and an assist for the Canadiens.

Before the game and after a thorough review of the Miller-Lucic collision Monday night, including a formal disciplinary hearing, former Whalers and Rangers wing Brendan Shanahan, NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations, didn’t suspend Lucic. Shanahan held a hearing with Lucic via conference call because he had specific questions he wanted to ask before making a determination on potential supplemental discipline.

“I had the hearing because I did make an initial assessment of the play, as I do with all plays, but I did have some questions for Milan and I wanted to hear directly from him,” Shanahan told NHL.com. “They were regarding his intent; at what point did he know there was going to be a collision; and whether or not he felt he had the time to avoid the collision. I was satisfied with his answers.”

Shanahan, who attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, said the minor penalty for charging was the proper call because it follows Rule 42.1, which reads “a goalkeeper is not fair game just because he is outside the goal crease area.”

“While it’s unfortunate that Miller was hurt, I saw nothing egregious about this hit that would elevate it to supplemental discipline,” Shanahan said.

The Northeast Division rival Bruins and Sabres meet five more times this season, so they’ll have plenty more chances to “get at it” and Miller will have a chance to let Lucic know what he thinks to his face.

At the other end of the spectrum from the ugly in-game incident, the Bruins earned high marks for honoring our armed forces and their families by having Lieutenant Charles Jacobs of Pembroke, Mass., a member of the 182nd Infantry of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, surprise his parents, Darren and Laurie, by delivering the puck for the ceremonial pregame faceoff while on leave after seven months in Afghanistan. It was a touching and emotional moment for the reunited family before the puck was dropped, as Charles stood between his parents and the players applauded and the crowd roared. Well done, Bruins!!!

WHALE BACK HOME FRIDAY

The Whale (7-4-1-2) plays only their second home game in 26 days on Friday night when they host the nemesis Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Sound Tigers (8-6-1-0) have prevailed in the first two games of the GEICO Connecticut Cup series, rallying from two-goal deficits to win 5-4 in a shootout on Oct. 15 in Hartford, and 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 2 at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport as Tim Wallace notched his first pro hat trick.

In celebration of Veterans Day, the Whale is offering a “buy-one-get-one-free” discount on lower-level tickets for the game. Any military personnel who present a military/veteran ID at the Public Power Ticket Office at the XL Center will receive the special offer. Well done, Whale!!!

The Whale is 7-3-1-2 since a season-opening loss at Adirondack, and all three regulation losses have come at the hands of the Atlantic Division-leading St. John’s IceCaps (11-2-3-0), who have won six in a row, half of them against the Whale, and have points in eight straight games (6-0-2-0). The Whale has had the lead in every game, including by two goals twice in a 4-3 loss at St. John’s on Sunday. All told, they have lost leads in six of their seven losses, including by two goals in four games, rallied to win once and are 4-2-1-1 (.500) when leading after two periods. That compares to 7-1-0-0 for the IceCaps, who were minus five call-ups, including the top half of their defensive corps – Brett Festerling, Mark Flood and Paul Postma, an AHL All-Star last season. The Whale gets one more shot at the IceCaps when they visit the XL Center on Jan. 20.

The St. John’s trip was part of the Whale opening the season with 10 of their first 14 games and 15 of 22 on the road. After they host the Sound Tigers on Friday night, they play five of their next seven games away from the XL Center before finishing 2011 with eight of 11 at home.

Center John Mitchell scored three goals in the Whale’s two losses to his former team to take over the team lead in goals (seven) and points (12), one more than rookie wings Carl Hagelin (six goals, five assists) and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (five goals, six assists). Cam Talbot (4-1-1-0, 2.66, .903, one shutout) and Chad Johnson (3-3-0-2, 2.87, .903, one shutout) each had some difficult times against the IceCaps and will be looking to rebound against the Sound Tigers and at Providence on Sunday afternoon.

Feisty left wing Justin DiBenedetto leads a balanced Sound Tigers attack with 13 points (nine goals, four assists), followed by center David Ullstrom (10, 2) and left wings Wallace (4, 7) and rookie Casey Cizikas (3, 8). Ullstrom has a goal in six straight games, one off Jeff Tambellini’s team record. South Tigers first-year coach Brent Thompson, a former Wolf Pack defenseman who led Alaska to the ECHL title last season, has used three goalies – Mikko Koskinen (0-1-1-0, 2.82, .909), rookie Anders Nilsson (5-2-0, 2.86, .908) and Kevin Poulin (3-3-0, 4.06, .874).

The Sound Tigers (8-6-1-0) won 4-3 at Springfield and Hershey last weekend to move into a second-place tie with the Whale. Thompson said Nilsson (34 saves) stole the game in Hershey, where the Sound Tigers had lost 11 straight, including three in the 2010 playoffs, since Nov. 3, 2007. Right wing Nino Niederreiter has completed a two-week conditioning stint and returned to the parent New York Islanders after getting goals in three straight games, giving the fifth overall pick in 2010 four points (three goals, one assist) in five games.

Rookie right wing Carter Camper (4, 8) leads the P-Bruins (8-8-1-0) in scoring, followed by center Zach Hamill (6, 5) and right wing Kirk MacDonald (1, 7). Rugged left wing Lane MacDermid, son of former Whalers right wing Paul MacDermid, has two goals, four assists and a team-high 40 penalty minutes. The Bruins have also used three goalies – Anton Khudobin (7-5-1-0, 2.74, .921, one shutout), Michael Hutchinson (0-3-0, 3.03, .897) and rookie Karel St. Laurent (1-0-0-0, 3.46, .907).

Seven of the Bruins’ last eight games have been decided by one goal, including one in overtime and another in a shootout, and the other was a 4-2 loss at Portland in which the Pirates scored an empty-net goal with one second left. This is the first of eight meetings between the longtime rivals, who are not in the same division for only the second time, the other being in the 2002-03 season when the Wolf Pack played in the East Division and the P-Bruins in the North Division. This is the first time in nine years that the Wolf Pack/Whale is not in the Atlantic Division as part of a major realignment in the AHL. The old four-division format has been replaced by a six-division setup that mirrors the NHL. The realignment was accompanied by a new playoff eligibility format that also is patterned after the NHL, with the top eight teams in each conference earning postseason berths and the top three seeds going to the three division champs in each conference. …

ODDS AND ENDS…

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Ben Street was named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week after getting two goals and six assists and being plus-5 in two wins and a loss last week. Before the outburst, Street had only two points in eight games in his second pro season out of the University of Wisconsin, where he played with Rangers center Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh and advanced to the 2010 NCAA title game against Boston College, losing 5-0 to the Eagles and the Rangers’ top prospect, left wing Chris Kreider. The second-ranked Eagles were stunned 5-0 by No. 16 Boston University at home on Sunday. It snapped the visiting Terriers’ five-game losing streak to BC and handed the Eagles their first shutout loss to BU in Hockey East play. The last time BU blanked the Eagles was March 1, 1983, in a 3-0 victory at home.

WHALE BOWL-A-THON NOV. 27

The Whale’s annual Bowl-a-Thon to benefit Special Olympics Connecticut is Nov. 27 at the AMF Silver Lanes in East Hartford.

There will be shifts at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., with a team of four paired with one Whale player for a minimum donation of $200 for two games. There also will be chances to win prizes, including hockey memorabilia, restaurant gift cards, apparel and more.

To register, call 877-660-6667 or visit www.soctbowlathon.com or www.ctwhale.com.

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