The hockey player they’re naming a new bridge after

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Gordie Howe was born in Canada and became the second leading scorer in the history of the NHL, most notably as a player for the Detroit Red Wings. 

One of his legacies is known as the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick,” which is when a player scores a goal, earns an assist, and gets into a fight with a player on the other team. This “hat trick” was first recorded on October 11, 1953. Marshall Dann of the Detroit Free Press wrote on the evening of the event, “Play started at a normal tempo for Toronto games – wild and tough. Eight penalties were recorded in the first period including fighting majors to Gordie Howe and Fere Fleman.” 

Howe is also known as being part of the three player “Production Line,” a reference to the automobile industry in Detroit and the assembly plants that many Detroiters worked at. Howe, Sid Abel, and Ted Lindsay skated on the same shift, another parallel with the fans in the stands employed by automobile manufacturers. Dann included the scoring in his article: “Ted Lindsay contributed the finale by tipping home Howe’s shot.” 

In other words, “Just another day in the office.”

To put it in the proper context, in the twentieth century, this correspondent heard the joke “Last night I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out.” This was a play on words as it was so common in that era that during a hockey game a fight breaks out as to be banal. Gordie was known for both his physical strength and refusal to be intimidated by any player on the other team. 

As for the semantics, a “hat trick” means a player scoring three goals in the same game; the fact that Dann found nothing unusual about Howe getting into fisticuffs with a Toronto Maple Leafs player leads this correspondent to the conclusion that the saying “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” was coined later on in his career or after he had retired.  

Howe’s legacy for both scoring goals and getting into fights while wearing hockey skates lives on in an ironic twist. In the Detroit Free Press opinion column by Mike Thompson, dated March 7, 2018: “It’s the latest chapter in…long effort to squash a competing bridge from being built over the river…” This time the fight not being on the rink, but in the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals.

Another irony looms over the horizon: fighting amongst hockey players once seeming to cause the noisiest crowd response to the live action is no longer condoned with NHL officials severely penalizing players for using their fists. In Howe’s day, both players would spend five minutes in the “sin bin” or at worst a game misconduct, sitting out the rest of the game and then suiting up for the next contest with no serious consequences and many of the fans loudly egging them on.

In stark contrast, the NHL is now known to impose hefty fines and lengthy suspensions for “the gloves coming off” with players now earning millions of dollars a year, the risk of injury can no longer be swept under the carpet. As for Moroun, it takes one to know one: he is “old school,” unwilling to back down, willing to fight it out, if there is the perception of a serious challenge. Gordie Howe, a “tough guy”? Apparently, so is he.