Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Golly Gee Willikers! It’s Howie Meeker’s Birthday!

imageHowie Meeker is maybe best known to fans of my generation as the colorful analyst from Hockey Night in Canada.

Now, stop it right there!, as he would say, because there is so much more to this legend.

Born in Kitchener, ON in 1923, Meeker quickly rose as a prominent junior hockey star, in the OHA and JOHA, before going into military service during World War Two.

His hockey career, and life for that matter, could have ended right there when a grenade exploded between his legs.

The hockey gods were clearly looking down on Meeker, as he recovered from his wounds and went to play a season with Stratford of the SOHA in 1945-46.

image Meeker with the Maple Leafs – HHOF photo

The following season, he was signed as a free agent, by the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the spring of 1946.

Meeker tied the record for most goals in a game by a rookie when he scored five against Chicago in January of 1947.

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His 45-point rookie season was good enough to earn him the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. One of the runners-up was someone named Gordie Howe.

With the Leafs, Meeker spent most of his time playing on the "Tricky Trio" line with Ted Kennedy and Vic Lynn, and would play on four Stanley Cup winning teams (1947, 1948,1949, 1951). His NHL playing career continued with the Leafs until 1954.

It was interesting to learn that Meeker was also a Member of Parliament for a term (1951-53) while still playing with the Leafs.

image Meeker as an MP for Waterloo-South- HOC photo

Meeker was head coach of the Leafs for one season (1956-57) and had a dismal 21–34–15 record. He was became general manager in 1957, but was fired before the start of the 1957–58 season.

Still eager to play and teach the game, Meeker spent the next parts of twelve seasons playing part-time and coaching in Newfoundland.

It was in St. John’s where he got the broadcast bug. He started doing radio work as a sports announcer on CJON-AM in 1957, and named the station’s sports director the following year.

During the late sixties early seventies, Meeker began to run summer hockey camps all over North America.

His book “Howie Meeker’s Hockey Basics”, published in 1973, has been listed as  one of the 100 most important Canadian books by Literary Review of Canada in 2005.

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In 1969, Meeker joined Hockey Night in Canada, as a colour analyst ,alongside the likes of Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin.

His squeaky voice and use of the telestrator made him a standout as one of the top hockey analysts.

Intrigued by his instructional abilities and his passion to properly instruct younger players, the CBC ran a series of 15-minute episodes of Howie Meeker’s Hockey School. 107 episodes ran from 1973 to 1977.

Those clips can be found on the network’s digital archives.

After just five years with HNIC, Meeker won the Gordon Sinclair Award for Outspoken Opinions and Integrity in the Field of Broadcasting in 1974.

image Howie Meeker as a member of TSN’s broadcast team – HHOF photo

He also did work as an analyst for BCTV’s coverage of the Vancouver Canucks before joining TSN for even seasons from 1987-1998.

His value as an analyst could be more defined when he did work on four separate networks (CBC, TSN, NBC and BCTV) in one season. No other broadcaster has done that.

Meeker received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for excellence in hockey broadcasting in 1998 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Broadcaster Category.

image Meeker in 2008 – Oceanside Media Club photo

In 1999, he published his biography, “Golly-Gee – It’s Me: The Howie Meeker Story”.

That same year, The Hockey News named their “100 Most Colorful People in Hockey”, where Meeker was ranked #76.

From his great one liners, to his passion for the game from an educating aspect, Howie Meeker has given back to hockey everything he has learned from the game.

Happy Birthday Mr. Meeker!

More information on Howie Meeker can be found on his website and the Legends of Hockey site.

An interesting two-part article, in the St. John’s Telegram by Meeker’s nephew Geoff, from this past spring on fighting in hockey: Part One and Part Two.




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