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Colleen Howe: The Woman Behind "Mrs. Hockey"

Known as “a pioneer hockey wife and hockey mom who devoted her entire life to the betterment of the game” by Detroit Red Wings owners, Mike and Marian Ilitch, Colleen Howe paved the way for business women in the sports industry. 

The Howes, courtesy of The Detroit

In 1950, future hockey legend, Gordie Howe, met Colleen Joffa at Lucky Strike Lanes bowling alley in Detroit, Michigan. Gordie recalls their meeting as love at first sight, admitting “she was one of the prettiest things I’d ever seen.” Three years later, the couple married and went on to have four children, Marty, Mark, Murray and Cathy. Marty and Mark would excel at hockey and the Howes soon became hockey's “first family.” 

When Marty and Mark first began playing hockey, indoor rinks had yet to be developed in Michigan. Kids could only practice during the winter months, hoping the weather wouldn’t be too warm to melt the ice or too cold to cover the ice in snow. Colleen Howe saw this as a major setback for the young players in Detroit. Howe spread her idea of an indoor ice arena around, gained support, organized investors, and even took out a mortgage on her family’s house to make her goal a reality. In 1964, “Gordie Howe Hockeyland” was built in St. Clair Shores and even featured a hockey training school, where kids could learn lessons from current NHL players. The opening of the indoor ice arena produced many college hockey and NHL stars, provided college scholarships and most importantly, spread the love for the game throughout the community. 

Gordie Howe outside of Gordie Howe Hockeyland, courtesy of Detroit Festival of

As her two sons advanced in hockey, Howe found a need for a transitional team, one that players could perfect their skills in before heading off to major junior hockey or NCAA teams. Howe helped found the first Junior Hockey team in the United States, originally called Olympia Agency, which played in the Tier 2 league as part of the Southern Ontario Hockey Association. She served as general manager for three seasons and eventually changed the name to the Detroit Junior Red Wings. The team focused on helping players receive college scholarships, giving many the opportunity to continue playing hockey and further their education. 

Colleen Howe became the first female sports agent after founding Power Play International Inc. and Power Play Publications Inc. to manage the business interests of Gordie, Marty, and Mark Howe. Howe negotiated team contracts for the three players as well as Gordie’s first endorsement contract. She also registered Gordie Howe’s name and the nicknames “Mr. and Mrs. Hockey,” given to Howe and Gordie by fans, as trademarks. 

In 1973, Howe worked on a deal that allowed Gordie and his sons to play together on the same team. Marty and Mark were 18 and 19 years old when they got the chance to play with their 45 year old father. Howe found that the World Hockey Association did not have the same minimum age requirement for players as the National Hockey League. Two years after his NHL retirement, Gordie joined his sons on the Houston Aeros team and they became the first father and sons to play on the same team together in professional hockey history. 

Gordie, Marty and Mark Howe, courtesy of The Hockey

Colleen Howe’s accomplishments did not go unnoticed. In 1972, Howe was named Detroit Sportswoman of the Year. The following year, she was named Michigan Sportswoman of the Year. In 2000, the Howe family were awarded the Wayne Gretzky Award from the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, paying tribute to the family’s major contributions to the growth and development of hockey in the United States. In 2023, Colleen Howe was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. 

Colleen and Gordie Howe were also honored through the Colleen J. Howe Arena in Sandusky, Michigan, the Gordie Howe Middle School in Abbotsford, British Columbia and the Howe Arena in Traverse City, Michigan. They are often recognized together for their contributions to the hockey community, but Gordie admitted to, “I got credit for a lot of the things she made happen.” 

Gordie and Colleen Howe, courtesy of The Sport

After Gordie officially retired, focus turned to the Howe Foundation which provided financial support to young players and helped raise money for charities benefiting underprivileged children. Howe prioritized the success of young hockey players. She said her family had “been fortunate to see the positive effects hockey had had on (their) lives, (their) family’s lives and the lives of millions of others” and worked to continue that legacy. 

Edited by Raegan Verhoff

Written by Bella-Rosa Fetelea

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