Reflections on a stellar career for Meeker
“Stop it right there ..back it up, back it up ...”
Howie Meeker turned 89 years young on Sunday, and Oceanside’s inimitable ambassador was in great spirits.
“Packed and ready to go,” Howie beamed when The News stopped by Saturday.
Howie’s wife Leah was at art class but due to skip out early so the couple could drive down to Sidney on Friday then board a plane to San Francisco early Saturday morning.
“I’ve been to the airport and driven the highway to San Jose lots of times (as a broadcaster) but I’ve never been to downtown (SanFran). It was Leah’s idea,” he said. “It’s going to be great.”
“I wanna ride the trolley and I wanna do down to the wharf, you should see the list we have,” he laughed, adding “geez we’ve got a great big goddamn map and a list that’s five pages at least.”
In between calls from well-wishers the subject of the NHL playoff strike came up, and Howie had a few thoughts but was in no hurry to pick sides. As a former player he knows the power the owners wield, but he said that in today’s world he also understands how the working man “doesn’t have much sympathy” for the players who make a lot of money.
What is ironic, he pointed out, is that this year the NHL finally had that elusive lucrative television contract that will put the league on televisions across the U.S.
“That’s always been the goal, and even with that in place they still can’t seem to figure it out. It’s too bad,” he shrugged, then made the point that while a strike certainly won’t help the game south of the border, “Canadians love their hockey, they’re not going anywhere.”
The News caught up with longtime Parksville Royals’ coach and mentor Dave Wallace. Wallace may be best known in these parts for his years of service to the sport of baseball, but he also knows hockey, and is a big fan of Meeker who he calls “a guy who has been a tremendous ambassador for Parksville/Qualicum, let alone his influence on hockey in Canada.”
Meeker’s accomplishments in the world of hockey are well known — four Stanley Cup rings to show for his NHL career that spanned six years. In his first season in the NHL’s original six (1946/47) he won his first of three consecutive Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs and took home the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s outstanding rookie, beating out Gordie Howe for the honour. He also still shares the NHL record for most goals in a game by a rookie with five.
Wallace and Meeker go way back.
“When I was president of Oceanside Minor Hockey and on the executive, and this is back in the late 80s, we brought Howie in to help the skills and drills program, and he came on board and donated all his time, organizing equipment and putting together a format. He trained the coaches, worked with the kids, he was so great,” Wallace said. “The things he says about hockey, and what’s wrong, and how you teach kids to play the game — his format for teaching kids hockey you could take out the word hockey and drop in the word baseball, and minor sports in general — he was so far ahead of his time.”
Howie at the time was running his famous summer hockey school, which attracted kids from all over the world.
“His biggest thing was to get boys and girls playing hockey at an affordable price so we gathered up all the gear we could and basically gave it to kids starting out to get them going.”
Meeker helped coach the 1994/95 Oceanside Midget AAA team.
“He ran the practices with the guys and he was absolutely outstanding. We lost in the B.C. final to Kamloops, it was a tremendous run and he had a lot to do it with it. There was a lot of good players on that team,” said Wallace, “and Howie made every one of them better.
“We used to practice at 6:30 in the morning twice a week and he was there, and he was in his early 70s at the time, he donated so much of his time to kids. He had a huge influence on me, and I can’t say enough about the huge contribution he’s made to our community.
“People like that have a real positive influence on the community,” said Wallace, “never mind the huge, and I mean huge, economic benefits his school brought.”
Those skills and drills Howie initiated all those years ago remain an interracial part of OMHA.
For years his main school was held in upstate New York (in Potsdam) south of Montreal, then one year he brought the camp to Parksville in August and he liked it so much he moved here and ran a summer school here for 10 years.
A rugged right winger in his playing days he began his 30-year career as a hockey analyst for Hockey Night in Canada and worked for CTV, TSN and NBC.
He spent 35 years running his hockey camps in the U.S. and Canada and from 1973-77 he hosted weekly telecasts on CBC called Howie Meeker’s Hockey School.
Meeker was elected to parliament as a Conservative MP for Waterloo South in 1951 while he was still playing for the Leafs.
In 1998 he was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. On December 30, 2010, Meeker, who also served his country in WW2, was named a member of the Order of Canada.
In April of this year CBC aired a short clip on YouTube entitled The Man Who Changed How We Watch The Game.
“It’s been a great life, it really has,” a relaxed Howie said in his sun room overlooking French Creek Harbour. “And I’m looking forward to celebrating my 90th birthday.”