Gordie Howe was a one-hand legend in the game of hockey. If you rhymed off the best, most influential players ever to take the ice, Howe wouldn't slip past your first four fingers and thumb. He's on the shortest of short lists. He was the original record-book smasher before Wayne Gretzky came along and, because of Howe's unrivalled longevity, he still holds many unbeatable marks. Howe debuted in the NHL in 1946-47, making the jump from the USHL's Omaha Knights. The Hockey News debuted the following year. It took young Howe a few seasons to find his footing and become a dominant NHLer. So when did THN first notice him and recognize 'Mr. Hockey' in its pages? The fascinating thing about Howe's immortal moniker: it wasn't originally his. Howe's image first appeared in THN March 2, 1949, in the top right corner of a cover collage depicting a "star array of trophy threats":
Believe it or not, on the last page of the previous edition was the following story:
Yep, another Mr. Hockey held the mantle first. The original was Lloyd Blinco, an institution of Hershey Bears hockey as a player, coach and executive. Lloyd left a lasting impression on the AHL's Bears. They inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2012. But it didn't take long for Gordie to snatch away the Mr. Hockey title. Later the 1948-49 season, Howe earned his first player-of-the-week award from THN:
We only listed Howe at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds? That doesn't seem to do a man of his powerful stature justice. The Gordie we remember today was a robust six-foot and 205 pounds. At least we nailed the description by calling him "a rugged individual." We also noted Howe was one of the rare players in organized hockey who could score from the right or left side. Interesting. Howe broke out in the 1948-49 playoffs with eight goals and 11 points in 11 games. By the next season, 1949-50, he was legit front-page material in THN. Here he is, appearing with fellow 'Production Line' members Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel in caricature form:
The best nugget of information from the cartoon: the mention of Howe playing defense. It's not a fact often publicized but, yes, Gordie could drop back and help on 'D' if needed. It was one more skill that left opponents asking, "Is there anything he can't do?" Mr. Hockey would star in THN's pages for the next six-and-a-half decades, many as a player and many more as an ambassador. We will miss him – and we will never forget him.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin