Why Hall of Famer Gordie Howe skates above the ice

Gordon Howe was born on March 31, 1928. Like most boys in Floral, Saskatchewan, he loved playing hockey. Of course most boys' hockey games began and ended on their backyard rinks.

Howe was a four-time Stanley Cup champion.
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Gordie packed his skates and moved to Detroit, Mich. in the fall of 1946. He landed a job where he mostly worked nights and weekends.

Howe's employer, the Detroit Red Wings, made a smart hiring decision. Their right winger had a great career with them that lasted through 1971.

Beyond retirement

Howe returned to professional play in the World Hockey Association from 1973 through 1979. Then, a corporate merger allowed him to return to the National Hockey League for one last season when he was in his early 50s.

I remember watching that amazing, gray-haired, athlete play for the Hartford Whalers against the Philadelphia Flyers during that last professional season in 1979-80.

Howe appeared in every one of his teams' 80 regular season games. He scored 15 goals, had 26 assists, was a plus 9 and spent 41 penalty minutes in the penalty box. Then, he had a goal and an assist in three playoff games against his final opponent, the Montreal Canadiens.

The greats

Howe can never be elbowed out of any fantasy starting hockey lineup.

Imagine if he was on an Edmonton Oilers line where Wayne Gretzky centered him and Mark Messier.

Consider Howe as a Boston Bruin on a power play with Phil Esposito and one of his stated favorite players, Milt Schmidt.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans, he could be on your power play as well with Frank Mahovlich and Darryl Sittler? Of course.

How about pairing him with Canadien Maurice Richard and the Chicago Black Hawks' Bobby Hull? Oh my.

Ron Francis began playing for the Hartford Whalers just one season after Howe had retired and is ranked behind him as the National Hockey League's fourth leading point scorer. The Los Angeles Kings brilliant center, Marcel Dionne, is in fifth place. Put those two with Howe in any game situation and consider how many teams would have been schooled in the round puck arts.

The point of referencing all of these historical names is to show that Howe fits with everyone, but is truly surpassed by none.

Gordie's 'hat trick' style

On a rare occasion, a player will score three goals in one game. When they do, fans show their appreciation by throwing baseball-style hats and various other types of headwear onto the ice.

This great hockey tradition is believed to have its origins in the game of cricket and in 1940s Toronto, where a local men's clothier gave players free hats when they scored three goals.

The 'Gordie Howe hat trick' is a reference to scoring a goal, getting an assist and getting into a fight in a game.

Number 9 was more than just a scoring machine. He was a superstar who was not afraid to mix it up.

Above the ice

Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux and Montreal Canadien, New York Ranger and Quebec Nordique legend Guy Lafleur both share a fine distinction with Howe. Each played in the NHL after they had been elected to the Hall of Fame.

How fitting it was when one of hockey's greatest stars had his son, Mark Howe, join him and all of his friends in the Hall in 2011.

'Mr. Hockey' set many records and still ranks highly on the NHL's leader boards. It is more respectful to fully review all of his career statistics, then it would be to only list some within this space.

Even though Howe has enjoyed a long retirement, he has remained at the front of all hockey fans' minds. That happens when you shape the game by skating above the ice.

I became a Flyers fan during the 1970s. I met Dave Schultz during his "Hammer" days, consider street hockey to be the winter version of wiffle ball, remember Gene Hart as the best there ever was and wore an all-black mesh team jersey to school to honor Pelle's life after that November day. Follow me on Twitter @SeanyOB

More from Sean O'Brien and the Yahoo Contributor Network:

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When the Philadelphia Flyers met the Boston Bruins on that Stanley Cup Day

The Flyers 2011 Fresh Face Campaign

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Updated Friday, Jul 15, 2011