All but one of the players in major league hockey is listed in the Hockey Register as either a left or right shot. The exception, the only man officially listed as shotting both ways, is noteworthy in a few other respects, too.
He is Gordie Howe, the 51-year-old grandfather who will accompany the Hartford Whalers onto Capital Centre ice tonight for a 7:30 exhibition with the Washington Capitals.
This will be the first appearance in Abe Pollin's pleasure palace for Howe, and even he cannot recall how many rinks this will be for his memory book. It will be more comfortable than the first one, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The temperature frequently reached 30 below zero when Howe was growing up during the Depression, but he and his pals still utilized an outdoor surface. He wore skates discovered in a bag of clothes his mother purchased for a dollar and they were not exclusively his until he gave his sister a dime to buy out her half share.
"We played with tennis balls instead of a puck," Howe recalled, "and the ball would get so hard from the cold we'd need new ones all the time. A woman next door used to warm them in an oven for us."
Leaving school in the eighth grade, Howe turned to construction work and it helped him to develop into one of the strongest players in hockey. Although shy off the ice, he was a tiger on it and as a 16-year-old in the Detroit Red Wings' camp, he engaged in so many fights that the Wings' manager, Jack Adams, told him, "You've shown me you can fight. Now show me you can play hockey."
Howe did as he was told. In 25 seasons at Detroit, starting in 1946, Howe collected 786 goals and 1,023 assists. He was the National Hockey League's leading scorer six times and its most valuable player six times, and was named to either the first or second all-star team 20 times.
They thought Howe was dying in 1950, after he crashed into the boards and suffered a concussion. And they thought he had retired in 1971, choosing him for the Hall of Fame in 1972. But in 1973 Howe joined the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association, to play with his sons, Mark and Marty, and he will be playing with them tonight, in his third season as a Whaler.
Howe has been troubled by dizzy spells and whether he will start the regular season still is questionable. He has promised to announce his decision Tuesday. On past performance, however, the way he has returned five straight times for "one more year," he probably will be in the lineup.
"The thought of giving it up for good is terrible," Howe said. "Just the thought that it has to end some time is terrible."
"He's still one of the five best players the Whalers have." said Washington's Jack Lynch after the Capitals beat Howe and company 10 days ago. "He's got to be the most remarkable athlete who ever lived."
Capital optimism was the keynote of yesterday's Welcome Home luncheon for the Capitals and Bullets at the Shoreham. . .Owner Abe Pollin, who promised the Capitals a China trip (one way, maybe, if they flop?), said, "We've been the butt of the jokes too long. We are really, really looking forward to a super year with the Capitals." . . .'General Manager Max McNab: "I'm sure we're going to have a winning season.". . .Coach Danny Belisle: "It could be an easy job for a coach this year. We will make the playoffs and go beyond that.". . .