Recently I’ve had a great opportunity to be on Liam Maguire’s Ultimate Hockey Show and I’m happy to say since that amazing chance we have developed a pretty good friendship. He told me about a hilarious story of a personal encounter with “The Great One” and “Mr. Hockey” he had had himself. Since the current Detroit Red Wings season has been far from joy and happiness, this story came at the perfect time for us die hard Red Wings fans and I’m hoping others will be happy once they read it as it makes up for some of the pain we all have been sharing lately. So here is Liam Maguire in his own words….about the Untold story of Gretzky & Gordie. (AND PLEASE be sure to check out Liam Maguire on twitter @Liams_Hockey and give him a listen on ‘Liam’s Ultimate Hockey Show’ 11am-1pm on Rogers 1310AM in Ottawa!)
Hello every one. My name is Liam Maguire. I’m an acquaintance of Kayla Martz. I’ve submitted this to her to use at her discretion. Kayla was on my radio show in Ottawa recently talking all things Detroit and we finished our very exciting interview talking about Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. I know many of you have read a large volume of material since Mr. Howe’s passing. I’m submitting this memory I have of working with him, I hope you enjoy it.
In 2009 I was booked to entertain at the Wayne Gretzky fantasy Camp in Phoenix, Arizona. I flew out of my home city, Ottawa, Canada to Detroit to catch my connector to Phoenix. As I’m disembarking in Detroit and walking through the airport to my next boarding gate I round a corner and run smack into Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe! Thank goodness his elbows were down, he would have dropped me. Mr. Howe and I had worked together a number of times previously going back to the 1991 NHL awards in Toronto. He was with his grandson Travis and as we made small talk we were both shocked to hear we were travelling to the same location, to see Wayne. Each year Wayne had a surprise guest at his fantasy camp and this year apparently it was going to be Gordie Howe and coincidentally the same time as I was attending. Fantastic!
We flew on the same flight to Phoenix and upon arriving we were able to ride in the same limo to the resort where we would be staying. Gordie was the surprise guest so he was transported secretly through a side door and we left it that we’d see each other later that night. I checked in, hooked up with the boys, Wayne and Co. and got the itinerary for the night. I retired pool side to soak up some sun, have a few beverages and meet all the other former NHL’ers who were checking in through out the day; Grant Fuhr, the Courtnall brothers, Larry Robinson, former Red Wing Paul Coffey, John Muckler, Marty McSorley, all there to participate in Wayne’s phenomenal event. Later that night we were transported by bus to Wayne’s new warehouse that had been transformed into a large bar and party center for the evening. Decorations, two bars, music, quite the opening night. Gordie had been secretly taken over and was set up in a private room adjoined to the main warehouse. After about an hour inside the group were encouraged to move toward the room Mr. Howe was in. They were all told they were to pick up their credentials for the camp, etc and as they each came around the corner, waiting for them on a chair with some of his great photos and the trophies he won in the NHL was Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. To say the reaction was insane would be an understatement. It was unreal and so much fun to witness. But then it was time for me to go to work and little did I know I was going to be soon be involved in one of the most memorable moments in my entire professional life.
The group reassembled in the warehouse, Mr. Howe, Wayne and the former NHL’ers included and I was introduced. First and only time this has happened to me but they put me on a palate on a fork lift and I was raised about 20 feet above the crowd with a wireless microphone to do my gig. My ‘gig’ by the way is I bill myself and the world’s number one NHL historian. Nobody knows more than I do off the top of their heads on the history of the NHL. I’m a three-time published author, I’ve made more than 3000 appearances on radio, TV, in newspapers and speaking live but this was in front of Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky, big time stuff!!
I had a total blast up in the air, fielding questions, a couple of guys threw up cans of beer, the whole thing was just crazy. Then I got thee question. The crowd were provided with microphones that were passed around. As one of them worked it’s way to the back of the warehouse I was asked what was the best anecdote that Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky shared given Gordie was Wayne’s all time favourite player and BTW he’s also Wayne’s pick as the greatest ever. I thought for a second and I said, “I have a story that I’ve seen in print but I’ve never heard it verified and perhaps tonight given both Gordie and Wayne are here we can verify it once and for all.”
So I told my story; Wayne Gretzky started playing hockey in 1967. He joined a team of older kids in Brantford, Ontario and because of that his sweater was too big so his Dad, the legendary Walter, ‘Wally’ Gretzky, tucked the right side in. For the next several years Wayne played up in age, they did the same thing every time. By the time Wayne reached ten years of age it was a habit and one he continued right through minor hockey, junior and into the WHA. In fact the story goes that every single game of hockey Wayne Gretzky played in his life from that very first game as a six year old until his retirement as a New York Ranger in 1999, he started every game with his sweater tucked in. Sometimes it would come out so later on in the NHL he actually had a special button inside his pants that he could hook the sweater on to so there are some images of him with the sweater out but every single game he started for 32 years that sweater was tucked in….except for one.
The date was January 2, 1979. A collection of WHA all-stars coached by former Detroit Red Wing bench boss Jacques Demers, played a 3-game exhibition series against a touring Soviet club team, Moscow Dynamo. Demers asked Gordie and Wayne if they would play on the same line with Gordie’s son Mark. Of course they were thrilled. After the warm up, as the players were heading out to the ice for the start of the game Gordie Howe noticed Wayne’s sweater tucked in and assumed it was problematic for number 99, who was seventeen years old at the time. Howe said, ‘let me fix that for ya kid,’ and proceeded to take a roll of hockey tape, pull the sweater out and tape it to the bottom of Wayne’s pants. Gretzky was mortified. What to do! This was his superstition but it was his idol who pulled the sweater out! Wayne left it and headed for the ice. 95 seconds into the game Wayne scored with assists going to Gordie and Mark. The line combined for 7 points and won the game 4-2. They won games 2 and 3 also but Wayne returned to his habit of tucking his sweater and the story goes that was the only time he ever in his life started a game with it not tucked in.
As I finished the story, you could have heard a pin drop in this huge warehouse. So I pointed to Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe and I pointed to number 99, Wayne Gretzky and I said, ‘gentlemen, today you can confirm or deny this story. Did it happen like that?’ And I turned to Gordie and he got the microphone and in his usual soft voice he said, ‘it happened exactly that way,’ and the whole place went nuts! It was bedlam, people were cheering and yelling, you’d think we won a mini-Stanley Cup or something.
This really was a tremendous further connection between these two great players and great ambassadors for the game of hockey and given all I’ve had the privilege to be a part of, being there live for this ranks right at the top so on behalf of Kayla, this is my personal greatest Gordie Howe memory.
Pictures are myself and Gordie Howe, NHL Awards, Toronto, June/1991. First time I worked with him and CTC, Ottawa, November 2012.