There was hockey’s traditional hat trick — three goals by a player in a single game — and what became known as the Howe hat trick: a goal, an assist and a fight.
At 6 feet and 205 pounds, Howe was relatively big for his era and had a tailor-made body for hockey, with long arms, a strong torso and outstanding balance.
Playing before helmets were required, he endured numerous injuries and some 500 stitches in his face. He almost died during the 1950 playoffs when he crashed into the sideboards attempting to check Ted Kennedy, a star forward with the Maple Leafs; Howe sustained a fractured skull and required emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain.
By the time he retired for the second and final time in 1980 as the oldest player in N.H.L. history, Howe had set records for most seasons (26), games played (1,767), goals (801), assists (1,049) and points (1,850). He won both the Hart Trophy as the N.H.L.’s most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top points scorer six times.
Orr, who starred with the Boston Bruins, marveled at Howe’s blend of supreme talent and combativeness.
“He has the reputation of being a tough player and using his elbows and so on,” Orr told USA Today in 1999. “But Gordie Howe can play any way you want him to play. You want to play tough, you play tough. You want to just play, you play. He didn’t shy away from anything. He was the total package.”
Howe was named a first- or second-team N.H.L. All-Star 21 times. The four Stanley Cups he helped the Red Wings win came in 1950, ’52, ’54 and ’55, when the N.H.L. was a fiercely competitive six-team league. After playing for Detroit from…