Monday, February 28, 2011

February 29, 1980: 800

HARTFORD, Conn. - Gordie Howe was 51 years old in 1980 (about to turn 52 in March). He had played his first professional hockey game in 1945, a stunning 35 years earlier. There was no real reason for him to suit up for the Hartford Whalers that year except to achieve the unique claim of playing professionally in five different decades.

But Howe's season with the Whalers was anything but a publicity stunt. Even at his age, Howe played all 80 games for the Whalers, scoring 15 goals while playing on a line with his son, who by then was in his ninth season of professional hockey. In fact, the elder Howe was named to the All-Star team in 1980 as he led the Whalers to a playoff appearance.

On February 29, 1980, with the Whalers hosting the St. Louis Blues, Howe added one more number to his staggering career totals. In Hartford's 3-0 win, Howe scored the 800th goal of his major professional career. The nice, round number was a fitting milestone to the most durable, versitle player in NHL history.

Howe finally retired after the 1980 season, holding the NHL records in games played, seasons played, goals (he would end with 801), and assists, among other records. While Wayne Gretzky soared past both Howe's goals and assists records (in about half the time) and several players have since passed him in assists, Howe can rest easy knowing that he'll hold the record for games played and seasons played probably forever.

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