The Gordie Howe-ing of Connor McDavid

Has Connor McDavid been watching Gordie Howe tapes?; Barzal paces Islanders; Caps slipping?

Has Connor McDavid been studying Gordie Howe tapes?

One might get that impression after reviewing the elbow hammering the Edmonton ace laid on the Canadiens' Jesperi Kotkaniemi last Tuesday in Montreal.

Certainly, the National Hockey League Player Safety cops took a good, hard look or three and concluded that McDavid owed the NHL five-grand and an apology to the Habs 20-year-old prodigy. 

But there's a lot more to the incident than a mere chump change attack on McDavid's money machine. 

The secret word is "protection."

It wasn't invented by the late, great Gordie Howe and -- knowingly or otherwise -- canny Connor had taken a page out of the Gordie Howe "Hit First And Ask Questions Later" book on avoiding harassment.

And, from all indications, McDavid has been harassed plenty as his points production stratospherically soars in a Gretzky manner.

A very specific incident inspired Howe to invent an invisible bumper and totally change his game from victim to victor seven decades ago.

In the first game of the 1950 playoff between Toronto and Detroit, Howe almost was killed in a controversial episode that to this day still is debated.

Was Howe's injury deliberate or accidenrtal? Here's what we know:

Howe tried to intercept Maple Leafs captain Ted Kennedy at center ice and wound up crashing head-first -- and very heavily -- into the boards.

So serious was the fractured skull that doctors feared for Gordie's life and it was freely predicted that if he survived, he'd never play hockey again.

Red Wings boss -- and plenty of other Detroit supporters including the Motor City's mayor -- charged that Kennedy butt-ended Howe and that foul play catapulted Gordie to his demise.

By contrast, the Leafs countered that Kennedy, aware that Howe was charging at him -- put on the brakes thereby allowing Howe to fly by without any contact being made.

After considerable interviews and reviewing the incident as dutifully as possible, NHL President Clarence Campbell exonerated Kennedy of any misdemeanor or whatever you want to call the near-thing.

So, what does this have to do with Connor McDavid?


Howe not only recovered completely but returned to action and in 1950-51 merely ran away with the scoring title. More to the point, he came up with a plan for future whacks to the head and other sensitive parts.

Howe: "Players knew that if they hit me, it was just a matter of time before I'd get them back. If a player did something dirty to me, I'd tell him I was going to get him

"Sometimes I'd wait five, six, seven games. I'd play with him, tease him, but he knew that sooner or later he'd pay.".

Exhibit A was Rangers forward Eddie Kullman who spiked Howe in the back of his legs with his stick. Finally, Gordie warned Kullman and the Ranger laughed. But not for long.

"We went down the ice," Howe recalled, "and I flipped the puck over to Ted Lindsay who was going to the net all alone. Everybody's eyes were on him. 

"Suddenly I saw Kullman beside me and just turned around and nailed him with my gloved hand. Broke his cheekbone. A promise kept and after a while almost everybody left me alone. There seemed to be respect."

My theory is that McDavid is doing a reasonable facsimile of the Howe protection theory. 

The man wants respect and if the NHL's best player -- and that's what Howe was for years -- isn't going to get it, somebody will get it.

Right in the kisser!



THE JIVE: With captain Anders Lee lost for the season, the Islanders require additional support from their top forwards to retain their upper standing. Their most gifted forward, Matt Barzal, more than filled the role last night with three goals and a pair of assists in the 8-4 win over Washington. Coach Barry Trotz adds an insightful postscript: "Matt didn't try to do it himself. He trusted his teammates." My son, Simon, himself a kid-level coach, adds, "Barzal's efforts were Herculean; especially his end to end goal."


THE JIVE: First it was Edmonton's Connor McDavid (see above) who got slapped with a (maximum) $5,000 ticket and now it's Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon. The Avs ace's five-grand punishment is for an unusual act -- tossing his helmet (unsportsmanlike conduct) at Arizona's Conor Garland on Wednesday night. Even more curious is that such misbehavior is totally out of character for Connor and Nathan. My explanation that this is all part of the homestretch frenzy in a totally intense season. No less mesmerizing is the following coincidence: In its pre-season annual, The Hockey News picked MacKinnon as the NHL "Best Player" while McDavid was runner-up. (Speaking of which -- the Hart Trophy, that is -- Chicago's Patrick Kane insists that McDavid should win the MVP award. I say that Kane is more valuable to the Blackhawks than McD to The Oil. Connor will win the Art Ross Trophy; I'd give the Hart to Kane.)


THE JIVE: Washington's skaters get another test tonight in New Jersey to determine whether their last pair of overwhelming losses -- first to the Rangers and then to the Islanders --  rank as a fluke slump or not. The Caps defense has become suddenly suspect and -- based on my scouting report from Long Island -- their best offense-man wasn't even a forward. It was defenseman John Carlson. Plus, based on the goaltending of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek lately, coach Peter Laviolette should start hoping that the recovering Henrik Lundqvist can return to action before the season is over. (Ergo: Tonight's match in Newark bears watching.)


THE JIVE: Carolina's freshman puck-stopper, Alex Nedeliovic, has been named NHL Rookie of the Month for March. Meanwhile, reliable James Reimer was just fine in the Canes' crease last night with a 4-3 win over the pesky Blackhawks. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes designated Number One goalie, Petr Mrazek,  soon should be returning from an injury. That means g.m. Don Waddell is in position to put one of the netminders on the trade block. (I'd say it will be the well-travelled Reimer.)


* SABRES IMPROVING: Buffalo took the onrushing Rangers to overtime last night before losing, 3-2. Beware the Blueshirts!

* HOBEY BAKER DATE, APRIL 9. My choice to win it is Wisconsin's forward Cole Caufield, destined to be a star with the Habs.

* SURPRISE TEAM STAT: I imagine that few realize the impressive arithmetic in Raleigh. The Canes are now 24-8-3. Cup for Carolina???

* NHL STARS OF THE MONTH: Aleksander Barkov, Philipp Grubauer, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. (No argument there.)


Which Hall of Fame goaltender went to law school while still an active player?

(Answer below.)

FUNNY COMMENT FROM YESTERYEAR: "Ask the pool players -- it's not what you make, it's what you leave."

-Pat Quinn, after a loss as Kings' coach.


Ken Dryden, a Cornell University graduate, attended classes at McGill University Law School while playing for the Montreal Canadiens.