When it comes to our sport, everyone knows who Mr. Hockey is.
The name Gordie Howe is synonymous with hockey as he dedicated his entire life to it, set many scoring records, and played the game right way. He was also perhaps the game’s greatest ambassador.
What many people do not know is that his wife, Colleen Howe, was tremendously involved with the game behind the scenes. In fact, a few years ago, there was a committee that tried to get her nominated into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.
While it has yet to happen, something like this would be more than well deserved. While Gordie is “Mr. Hockey”, Colleen is “Mrs. Hockey,” and she deserves a spot alongside her husband.
One of Gordie’s sons, Marty, was kind enough to send me a document a few years ago that demonstrated what Colleen did and meant to hockey. In reviewing the document, what Colleen did for the game is quite remarkable, and with all that she has done, I am very surprised that she is not in the Hall of Fame already.
Please read and feel free to share with anyone and everyone who loves the game of hockey:
Colleen was a tireless supporter/ visionary who worked her entire life promoting the great sport of hockey. She was a dreamer, organizer; workaholic who got things done for the betterment of the growth/ development of ice hockey in the United States. She got things done.
Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s when there were only outdoor rinks for young hockey players to play on in the city of Detroit, she had the vision to build an indoor ice rink where kids could play. She planned it, organized the investors, and even took out a mortgage on her own home to help provide the funding.
The result was Gordie Howe Hockeyland. This was the first privately owned ice rink in the Detroit area. She organized hockey schools that would provide present-day NHL players who would instruct and teach the kids of both the United States and Canada. Some of them became NHL players and also Hockey Hall of Famers themselves. Some went on to play college hockey. But the most important thing was that this created a tremendous growth opportunity for the game of hockey and for the kids who loved the game.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Colleen again had the vision and determination to fill a void that existed in the United States in ice hockey. There was no elite competition after one completed Midget hockey and before a player could go onto Canadian Junior hockey or NCAA hockey.
She created, organized, got sponsors, and recruited all the staff for the first Junior Hockey team in the United States to fill that void. The team was called the Olympia AgencY and it played in the Tier 2 league in the S.O.H.A. (Southern Ontario Hockey Association). Now kids from the United States had a place to help develop their hockey futures before heading off to major junior hockey and the NCAA to play hockey and earn scholastic scholarships. This team would go on to become the Jr Red Wings hockey program the following year. The home games were played at the home of the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL. Often the crowds were to the 15,000 seat capacity. Many of these attendees were the next generation of ice hockey players in the City of Detroit and the surrounding areas including southern Ontario.
Colleen’s vision and devotion to the game of ice hockey was growing the sport by leaps and bounds. A few years later Colleen became the first female agent in the sport of ice hockey when she negotiated the contracts of her husband Gordie Howe and her son’s Marty and Mark Howe. It provided the sport of ice hockey and fans throughout North America to witness the first and only father and son’s playing on the same team together in professional hockey. A feat that has not been duplicated.
Gordie wanted to play again and she found a way to make that happen in the World Hockey Association with the Houston Aeros in 1973. Gordie had been retired from the Detroit Red Wings for two seasons and would have to wait another two more seasons if this feat would attempt to be achieved in the National Hockey League. Those additional two seasons would possibly have been too far removed for even Gordie Howe to be able to accomplish. She recognized the need to get things done now and she did.
Colleen then thought it was not in the best interest of the sport of ice hockey or the fans of ice hockey to shelter Gordie from the public after he retired from hockey. Colleen and Gordie worked for many years getting Gordie out to meet his adoring fans and to raise millions of dollars for a variety of charities in North America.
She was caring and devoted to her family but also wanted to give back to the sport that provided so much for her family. Her way of giving back was to share her husband with the world. She also created the Howe Foundation back in 1997 to continue giving back to the young. The Howe Foundation today continues to provide financial support to the youth of many young hockey players and young people in the business of sports to give them a chance to succeed in the world of sports when they did not have the financial means to do so themselves.
Although she passed away in 2009, her vision of giving back to the sport she loved so much continues to this day. Colleen, along with Gordie, Mark, and Marty, received the Gretzky Award in 2000 from the US Hockey Hall of Fame. The award pays tribute to international individuals who have made major contributions to the growth and development of Hockey in the United States. This award truly belongs to Colleen as she is the individual of the Howe family who developed and grew the sport of ice hockey in the United States and Canada.