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What's it like when both you and your grandfather faced off against Gordie Howe

Battalion commentator and former NHLer Greg Theberge recalls his unique connection to Mr. Hockey

It was a November day in 1979 that Greg Theberge will never forget.  

At the time Theberge was a young defenceman on the Washington Capitals and his team was facing the Hartford Whalers, a team led by the ageless superstar named Gordie Howe.  

For Theberge, it was more than just playing against Mr. Hockey, it was a chance to play against the same player who played against his grandfather way back in the early 1940’s.  

Theberge’s Grandfather was Hall of Famer Dit Clapper.  The same man that Howe looked up to when he came into the league as a rookie in 1946.  That year Howe told the media he hoped he could play a long 20 year career like Clapper. 

It turned out to be much longer than that.  

“I was a 20-year-old kid just star struck playing in the National Hockey League and once I found out Gordie Howe was in the league and I knew he played against my grandfather and I knew the things he had said,” recalls Theberge.

Theberge is the colour commentator of TVCogeco’s North Bay Battalion broadcasts and  a contributor to’s BLUELINES columns.  

“You have to do your job. Did I play against him on one shift, or a couple of shifts? Yes. Did I back off and give him his space, yes,” Theberge chuckled.  

“They had a big four or five foot circle around him and nobody would go in it and approach him to cross check him, or for sure you didn’t want to get into his kitchen and at 52 I’m sure his elbows were just as sharp as could be.”  

Theberge recalls teammate Leif Svensson, a Swedish defenceman who was not aware of Howe’s reputation. 

Svensson learned a lesson in that game.  

“He didn’t know Gordie Howe the way everybody else knew him and he tried to challenge Gordie on a few puck battles and he came out, not only on the short end of the stick, but on the end of Gordie’s stick as he was injected with a nonchalant, camouflaged spear with the toe of his stick along with an elbow,” noted Theberge adding that Mr. Hockey was not assessed a penalty.  

After the game, the media wanted to talk to Theberge about the amazing fact that he and his grandfather both played NHL games against Howe.  

Theberge says that game against Mr. Hockey was one of his career highlights. It was also the same game that Theberge got his first NHL point on an assist on a Ryan Walter first period goal.  

“They (media) interviewed me and then they interviewed Gordie Howe about that game,” he said.  

“It was a real big thrill for me," Theberge added, in a game that teammate and North Bay native Brent Tremblay also recorded his first NHL goal.   

Theberge was shocked to hear about Howe's passing at the age of 88 today.  

He believes Howe's death can be comparable to what the sports world is dealing with in mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali.  

See that story here: 

He noted that Howe was a soft spoken man, who spoke with his actions more than he did with his words.   

“He was, in my opinion, the first player to epitomize what hockey is all about and how it should be played.  It’s a hard game and you need to play fair so he played fair, play hard and that’s what is best and that’s why his nickname is Mr. Hockey.  

“He was willing to play a finesse game when he had to - he was a really good skater - and he had a shot.  His stickhandling abilities were phenomenal for his era and he had some sandpaper to his game where he felt he was a leader out there and he would not only come to his own, but his teammates aid a lot.  

“He also had some scoring ability so when you combine finesse, sandpaper and scoring ability it spells Mr. Hockey.  He’s got all the accolades to prove that.” 


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Chris Dawson

About the Author: Chris Dawson

Chris Dawson has been with since 2004. He has provided up-to-the-minute sports coverage and has become a key member of the BayToday news team.
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