Mister Hockey

Gordie Howe
March 31, 1928 – June 10, 2016

If you are from Michigan, and have been involved in hockey in any way, chances are you have a Gordie Howe story.  Learning of his passing from a friend who I was having lunch with at Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, MI, rekindled memories of my brief moments with this legendary man.

The oldest memory has been with me for decades.  It hung in my parents’ basement until recently when it found a place in mine.

My aunt worked for the Ford Motor Car Company.  In June, 1972, after Gordie retired from 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and before he signed with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, Ford hosted an event where they brought Gordie in to sign autographs.  I was nine-years-old and had recently found hockey to be my favorite spectator sport.  I attended my first hockey game on January 9, 1971 – a 3-2 Detroit victory over the Buffalo Sabres at the Olympia.  My parents talked up Gordie, while I, being a youngster in the 70’s, was drawn to Gary Unger, and his flowing long hair (The Wings’ traded Unger less than a month after my first hockey game).

At the Ford event, Gordie was situated at a table.  My mom took some photos of me standing near him or with me in the background.

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Can you imagine a kid being allowed to get this close to a sports superstar today?

We then stood in line and waited to have him sign my autograph book.  When my turn came, I nervously and silently placed my autograph book before him.  He didn’t open it.  Instead, he noticed the shirt I was wearing.  He took the shirt at my waist and pulled it toward him.  Then he pressed the ballpoint pen against the material, signing his name.  I was stunned.  A few days later, a Ford photographer at the event talked to my aunt at her office, saying he had photos of Gordie autographing my shirt.  He gave them to her, and my parents framed the shirt and photos.  Touched my greatness, I was inspired.  That fall, I signed up for the only season of sports I ever played – a house-hockey league at the Plymouth Cultural Center.

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Hanging on the wall in my parents’ house, it always reminded me about how attentive and kind this man was.  As the years went by, and I became more involved as a fan, spectator, booster club president, photographer, and columnist in the sport, it was also a reminder of the contrast between him and the next generation of superstars.  He did not think his superstar status made him superior to us.  He was one of us, appreciative of our adoration.

I remember watching the 1979-80 NHL All Star game.  No.  Scratch that.  I remember nothing about the game.  It was played at the brand new Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and the only thing that mattered was the pre-game player introductions, saving the Hartford Whalers’ right winger for last.

Still gives me chills.  Man’s example of humility.

Though the 1979-80 season was his final year of hockey, he was not done.  There was one record yet to break.

I started photographing and writing for Great Lakes Hockey Alliance – a free monthly newsprint hockey publication covering all the Michigan hockey teams in the NHL, IHL, UHL, OHL, & CCHA – in 1997.  I photographed Detroit Vipers’ games at The Palace of Auburn Hills.  It was magical timing.  After so many photos from the stands, having a press pass and seeing my photos published was thrilling.  To cap it off, the Detroit Vipers won the 1997 Turner Cup, allowing me to go on the ice, capture team and player shots with the Cup, and the celebration in the locker room afterward with players’ friends and family.  Life was good.  Then, it got better.

For the home opener of the 1997-98 season, not only would the Vipers raise the Turner Cup Champion banner, they would start the season with #9, Mister Hockey, in the line-up.  It was an opportunity for Gordie Howe to be the only athlete to play a professional sport in six decades, breaking Minnie Minoso’s record of playing in Major League Baseball in five decades.   Minoso was present at the event.

Things were definitely different that evening.  The press box was overflowing with reporters from across the globe, as I went to pick up my media notes.

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When I descended from the heights of the stadium to my usual spot at ice level – the box between the players’ benches – three photographers had climbed in to get photos.  They did not like shooting through the glass, so one-by-one they climbed out.  I reclaimed my place.

The Palace, packed with 20,182 fans, provided another standing ovation for #9.

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He skated the first shift; forty-seven seconds of historic ice time.  Vipers defenseman, Bobby Jay, moved the puck into the Kansas City Blades’ zone, then passed it to Howe, who redirected the puck on net.  Another shot on goal to his professional career statistics.

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Gordie coming back to the bench after his shift.

He stayed on the bench during the first and second period, not returning for the third.  Which was too bad.  At the end of the third period, the score was tied 4-4.  The IHL had the shootout as a way of breaking ties (the NHL did not implement the shootout until 2005, nineteen years after the IHL adopted it in 1986).  Imagine if Gordie had been on the bench for the shootout, skated onto the ice, went one-on-one with the goalie, and scored.  Would The Palace have had to rebuild its roof?

The power of Gordie Howe transcended generations.  The following season, the Vipers celebrated his 70th birthday as a promotion night.  I arrived early at the game, and was walking through the corridor by the locker rooms.  Most Vipers games started at 7:30, with the doors opening to the public at 6PM.  Before the doors opened to the public, little league hockey teams would play on the ice.  I stood in the hallway as the kids – probably the same age I was when Gordie signed my shirt – waddled by on the blades of their skates, weighed down by their equipment, on their way to the locker room.  Gordie, randomly patted one of the kids on his helmet as he walked by and said, “You played good.”  The kid looked up, then stopped.  Awestruck.  The look on his face was one of a kid empowered. Gordie Howe said I played good.

Those are my fond memories of Gordie Howe.

Rest in Peace, Mister Hockey.

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May 26, 2012: Erie Admirals

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May 26, 2012
Detroit City FC 3, Erie Admirals 0
DCFC Knox Cameron (Keith Lough) 19′
DCFC Keith Lough (Tom Oatley) 35′
DCFC Kyle Bethel 83′

The first true test of support for Detroit City FC.  A torrential rain hammered the fans early in the afternoon affair.  But together, Supporters and team weathered the storm, putting three past the (Danny) Mudd between the Erie pipes.

Ominous clouds overhead won’t dampen the Supporters’ spirits.

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And down it comes….

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DSC08036 DSC08037 DSC08042 DSC08049 DSC08050 DSC08058Knox Cameron puts it where Alejandro Moreno’s grandmother hangs her clothes.DSC08029And there was much rejoicing!

DSC08031DSC08034Keith Lough traps the ball then scores for a 2-0 lead.

DSC08060 DSC08061More action…and it gets a little chippy.

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May 12, 2012: AFC Cleveland

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MAY 12, 2012
Detroit City FC 1, AFC Cleveland 1
DCFC Stefan St. Louis (Tom Oatley) 11′
AFC  Vinny Bell 35′

A crowd of 1,072 fans ushered in Detroit’s new soccer team.  It was also the debut of the Northern Guard Supporters.

Pre-Game:

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The first march to the stadium:
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The starting eleven:

DSC07466DSC07468The opening goal.  The ball comes in to St. Louis, who puts it past Ben Yabrow, then runs to the Supporters’ Section.

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And the first smoke from NGS to celebrate a goal.

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Vinny Bell scores for AFC Cleveland to level the match.

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The end of the match; the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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2012 Season Summary

DCFC05 I don’t recall how I heard about Detroit City FC, most likely through Facebook.  My initial thought was “a soccer team in Detroit?  Sounds like fun.”  And so, Denise and I went.

My first impression was about the professionalism of the atmosphere.  The merchandise was not cheaply done, and the team colors – rouge and gold – was a good mix for the urban Detroit landscape.  I had not heard of the National Premier Soccer League, but the general feeling after my first game was one of an organization that was both serious and fun.  I went in wearing a Columbus Crew jersey, and came home with a “Le Rouge” t-shirt and scarf. DCFC04 The program listed the rosters, and the names on both teams were all unknown to me.  But as the season progressed, the regulars became familiar (Adam Bedell, Keith Lough, Stefan St. Louis, Spencer Thompson, Josh Rogers, Nick Lewin, Cyrus Saydee, Jeremy Clark, Kyle Bethel, Zach Schewee, David Dwaihy, Zeke Harris, and Latif Alashe, to name a few), and a familiar name joined the team.  Having followed the Columbus Crew for a number of years, I was surprised to see Knox Cameron on the pitch in a Le Rouge kit.  The game had a good pace to it, and Cass Tech Stadium provided a cozy atmosphere near the skyline of Downtown Detroit. DCFC03 Most memorable, though, were the fans.  Not fans…Supporters.  The Northern Guard Supporters.  For this first season, we stayed on the “family friendly” side.  I had not heard of the Northern Guard Supporters.  The first match when they appeared in the visiting team bleachers, chanting, singing, and taunting Le Rouge opponents with some salty language, I found them be as entertaining as the team.  A bit edgy, perhaps.  That is, until the last match of the season – a friendly against the Windsor Stars – where I ventured into the full supporter experience for the first time. DCFC01 DCFC02DCFC Detroit City FC hooked me.  The Northern Guard Supporters reeled me in.

Since that first game, I have had the luck and blessing to have attended every home match to date (this with two more regular season matches to play in 2015).  I’ve posted albums on my Facebook page for each game, and I’ve decided to bring the party here with some added photos and video that may not be on Facebook. This isn’t meant as a serious historical perspective of the team that we all know and love.  The statistics I’ve culled are from the notes on my game programs with some assistance of the very informative blog about the team – Boys in Rouge.  If I have something wrong, please correct me.  My commentary will be brief in most cases.  This is about what I’ve seen and experienced and wish to provide the story of the game through photos and video, sharing my fun with my fellow Northern Guard Supporters and the players, coaches, fans, family members, and all others involved with, curious about, or in love with this Detroit soccer team.  It has been fun looking back through these, seeing many Northern Guard Supporters that I did not know at the time.  Please feel free to add your memories about these matches in the comments.

To sing my favorite chant to date:

And when I go.
And when I go.
And when I go make sure I’m wearing rouge and gold.

And when I go.
And when I go.
And when I go make sure I’m wearing rouge and gold.

Bury me in City rouge
Ohhh-ohhh
Bury me in City gold
Ahhh-ahhh

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Home from my first DCFC match.

The 2012 matches are as follows:

Deep bow, Erma

 I was in her city
She was not there
or so I thought.
Silly mind.

Saturday, I participated in a photo walk.  Held semi-annually in the spring and fall, Bija, a Buddhist teacher from Still Point Zen Temple in Detroit, leads us through the Woodbridge neighborhood of Detroit, south of Wayne State University campus, armed with cameras to capture images of our world.  It is, for me, a meditation.  Sitting on the cushion, mindful of breath and the current of thoughts flowing through my mind is one way I meditate.  This photo walk, and when I isolate images of the instant through photography in general, I find myself in that same, silent space.  Aware of my surroundings, my chatting mind goes silent and I see the world differently.

Saturday was  a beautiful day in Detroit.  Sun and a moderate temperature where a t-shirt and light jacket was perfect attire.  And as I had in the previous Buddhist photo walks I’ve taken, a number of interesting images were captured.  These are but a few:

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Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen

It was around 3:30 when we returned to the abbey.  We flipped through our photos and added a few more from within the Buddhist temple.

Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen

Upon leaving, I felt calm and centered.  On such a beautiful day, I didn’t want the feeling to end.  I considered parking the car downtown then move about the city to shoot more images.  But something didn’t feel right about it.  It would have felt forced, almost touristy.  Instead, my attention shifted to the book launch of my novel in a couple of days.  My first published novel.  But not my first published book.  And the subject of the first book guided me.

On August 14, 2004, the book launch for Down Through the Years: The Memoirs of Detroit City Council President Emeritus Erma Henderson took place at the Detroit Public Library’s main branch.  The five years leading up to this monumental moment passed too quickly.  My only regret being that I was too busy with job, law school, and recording, researching and writing Erma’s story to journal my own observations and insights along the way.  One of the things I did recall was Erma’s love of Belle Isle.  This became my destination.

I had been on Belle Isle only two times previously: once when Erma asked me to drive her around the island in the early part of this century and once for the launch of an anthology which included three of my shorter pieces at the Detroit Yacht Club during a blizzard in February of this year.  This would be my first solo adventure, and it did not disappoint.

Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen

I stopped at several points along the island where I then stepped out and took in the view.  Like Erma and others have told me before, Belle Isle is a gem, with spectacular views of the Detroit and Windsor skylines and the glistening water, sparkling like a river of diamonds.  I’d take a photo or two, then take in the sounds and sights silently.  It was just like I was back in time, when Erma was alive and I in her home.  And across the river stood The Jeffersonian, where her apartment was on the south end of the 28th floor.

Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen

I wanted to go back up there, to her apartment, tell her about my novel, listen to her stories and the affirmations she’d want to plant in my head.  To do so, however, would seriously confuse the current resident of that apartment.  So I got as close as I could.  Next to The Jeffersonian is the Erma L. Henderson Park & Marina, where I made the final stop on my day’s photo walk.

Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen

The walk through her park from my car out to the sign on Jefferson Avenue is when I told her about the novel.  I knew if she were here she would have had one of her many friends read her all 475 pages.  Then she’d share her thoughts with me about it.  It would have been a fun conversation.

A theme in The Y in Life is how a person’s life can change when someone who had an influence on him is no longer there.  Standing in the park, looking up  to that 28th floor apartment, I understood how Erma’s trust in me to write her memoirs gave me the confidence in myself to write this novel.  I helped her write her story; she helped me write mine.

A Legend Overlooked Again.

I was browsing a local book store recently and a title on the New Arrivals table caught my eye.  It was one of the local history books published by Arcadia Publishing, titled Legendary Locals of Detroit by Paul Vachon.  The cover is adorned with fifteen black & white portrait photographs of some of the locals revealed within.  I settled down in the cafe area with a brownie and pop, and flipped through the book.  By the time I reached the end, I was once again disappointed.

This is a rant.  I’m not singling out this book, it just seems to have pushed me over the tipping point.

Let me preface by saying that I am biased in my opinion on this.  I co-wrote Down Through the Years: The Memoirs of Detroit City Council President Emeritus Erma Henderson with her.  And when I began working on the project in 1999, up through today, I can’t find the words to express my feelings about the lack of inclusion of Erma Henderson in books covering recent history of Detroit.  When I saw Legendary Locals of Detroit, I was certain I’d find Erma mentioned within.

Chapter One is titled “Firsts” which covers pioneers who “were unsung heroes who advanced the causes of civil rights, often at risk to their own safety.”  Included in this chapter is Mary Beck – the first woman elected to Detroit’s Common Council (City Council) – and Jennifer Granholm – Michigan’s first woman governor who was born in Canada, and has no connection to Detroit.

Not Erma.

Chapter Two is titled “In The Public Square.”  Included in this chapter are Detroit City Council members Maryann Mahaffey and Mel Ravitz, along with mayors, judges, governors and other social justice leaders.

Not Erma.

The rest of the book depicts people in the fields of business, sports and art, with a final chapter on “Demagogues. Disrupters, and Dissidents” which includes gangsters and racists.

How is it that Erma Henderson is always overlooked in Detroit history books?

Erma Henderson was not the first woman on City Council, but she was the first African American – male or female – to be elected President of the Detroit City Council, by accumulating the most votes on election day.  And she held the presidency for four straight terms!  The election she won in 1972 to get on the Detroit City Council was in a head-to-head contest against Jack Kelly, an influential and popular white male.  Kelly was elected to City Council the following year, 1973, along with Erma, when the entire council was up for election.

On Council, Erma took on the insurance and mortgage companies and banks, leading an anti-red lining campaign that challenged Michigan’s laws that allowed the practice of denying insurance and loans or charging exorbitant rates, to credit-worthy individuals and businesses simply because they were located in a particular area red-lined by financial institutions.  Her crusade caused the Michigan legislature to enact the most comprehensive Anti-Redlining laws in the nation at that time.  A woman thirty years ahead of the Occupy movement.

She fought for civil rights as early as her high school days, where she demanded that the high school senior class photo no longer place all the black graduates at the bottom of the photo – where they could be clipped off.  The school changed the senior class photo and placed the students in alphabetical order.  In 1938 she led a sit-in at the Pantland Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids where she was attending the Michigan Republican Convention as a delegate, but was denied a room at the hotel because the hotel refused to allow minorities accommodations.

She was named the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Council following the 1967 disturbance where she coordinated the monitoring of the courts and compiled data on judges, attorneys and defendants.  The court watchers documented evidence of indifference towards poor and minority defendants.  The data was analyzed and published by the University of Michigan School of Social Work, which was a major factor in (1) the elimination of some visiting judges, (2) permanent funding for full-time jail ministry, (3) and several new judgeship appointments to Detroit’s criminal courts.  It was nationally recognized as being the most effective court-watch program in the nation in 1974.

She founded the Women’s Conference of Concerns which became a major coalition-building base of power for women’s organizations in Southeast Michigan.

Among the gallery of awards that she was honored with includes:

  • The Detroit News’ “Michiganian of the Year”
  • Michigan Education Association’s “Distinguished Service Award.”
  • Salvation Army’s “Citizen of the Year Award”
  • National Organization of Women’s “Feminist of the Year Award”
  • Detroit Free Press “10 Most Influential Women in Detroit”
  • Michigan Women’s Foundation’s Trillium Award (Lifetime Achievement).

She has both a school and a park named in honor of her – both during her lifetime.  Detroit City Council meets in the Erma Henderson Auditorium.

And I’m just scratching the surface.

Yet, Erma Henderson is not a legendary local.  Why not?

Her entire life was dedicated being a champion for the people of Detroit.

Detroit history writers – quit overlooking Erma Henderson.

Erma Henderson & I at her book signing at Borders in Detroit.  Photo by Denise Kitchen
Erma Henderson & I at her book signing at Borders in Detroit. Photo by Denise Kitchen