Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story

Kurt Thurber

 

Gordie Howe’s name is synonymous with the sport he played, ice hockey. True, to some of a certain age, he is also known as the long-distance love interest of Edna Krabappel, Bart Simpson’s teacher on an episode of “The Simpsons.” Bart uses a picture of the hockey Hall-of-Famer to give Miss Krabappel a whirlwind letter-writing romance. To the rest of the world, he is simply Mr. Hockey.

 

Much like Dick Butkus or Bo Jackson, Gordie Howe was the epitome of virility. However, the Canadian-born Howe played a violent, physically grinding game at an elite level for much longer than any of his professional peers, finally retiring at age 52. Howe did it all without wearing a helmet.

 

The film “Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story” begins at the end of Howe’s career with the Detroit Red Wings. The film depicts a predictably bored Howe who misses the day-to-day action of being a professional athlete as a figurehead in the Red Wings front office. Three years after retiring, his sons are drafted into the then rival World Hockey Association (WHA) giving Howe the opportunity to come out of retirement and play professional hockey at age 45. This instantly raises the WHA’s q rating much to chagrin of the rival NHL, which provides the tension for the movie’s plot.

“Mr. Hockey” is first and foremost a sports movie. No matter a sports movie subject, sports movies follow a pattern that is predictable regardless of budget size. If the movie is a Hollywood production like “42” or of more modest means like the made-for-television “Mr. Hockey,” an audience expects and does not want to be surprised by the outcome. In almost all cases is a triumph of sorts on the field of play (in this case the rink) that has larger meaning for the protagonist’s life, both literally and figuratively after the game is over.

 

“Mr. Hockey” is not for anyone looking for a deconstruction of what makes a legend tick. The narrative has a broad scope, fitting in many ancillary characters whose motivations are simply represented. Howe (played by Michael Shanks) has a Canadian accent and just wants to play as much hockey as he can. Howe’s wife (played by Kathleen Robertson) is a concerned wife and mother yet is a savvy business woman, the audience is shown never shown (though they are certainly told) why she is so intent in positioning her husband or both her sons to play together and against the National Hockey League (NHL).

 

Like any made-for-television movie, the acting is passable to not very good. There is too much expository dialogue. Yet, because it is a sports movie, “Mr. Hockey” works as a piece of entertainment that most can enjoy and get a glimpse into history.

 

While the movie never touches on Howe’s depiction in “The Simpsons,” the movie is a great primer for a part of hockey history, when the WHA and the established NHL were rivals, which maybe unbeknownst to even most hockey fans. It works for its intended audience of a family-friendly movie that can introduce young hockey fans to Gordie Howe and let older generations fill in the gaps for anything the movie missed.

 

Author Bio:

Kurt Thurber is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

 

Photos: Arnie Lee (Wikipedia Commons); Anna Enriquez (Wikipedia Commons).

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