Howie Meeker, a former NHL player, Hockey Night in Canada icon and legendary personality, died Sunday at age 97 at Nanaimo General Hospital in B.C.
Meeker, who won four Stanley Cups with Toronto and was the oldest living Maple Leaf, was an NHL star who won rookie of the year honours in 1947 after scoring 27 goals and 45 points in 55 games.
A spokesperson for the Maple Leafs, the team that signed Meeker to a free-agent contract on April 13, 1946, confirmed his death earlier Sunday. There was no immediate word on the cause.
Meeker went on to become a broadcaster and was known for phrases such as “Jiminy Cricket,” “Golly gee willikers” and “Stop it right there!” His work with HNIC earned Meeker the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in 1998 after a 30-year career on CBC and TSN.
Yesterday felt good. Today feels awful. Howie Meeker’s death leaves me with so much to say, and so little ability to find the right words. In this limited space, I’ll try by remembering him as the best of friends during the best times of my life.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement Sunday evening, commending Meeker for his accomplishments as a player, broadcaster, and educator for the game of hockey.
“Howie Meeker spent his long and remarkable life playing, teaching and broadcasting the game of hockey and serving his country with incredible enthusiasm,” Bettman said.
Born on Nov. 4, 1923 in Kitchener, Ont., Meeker played eight years with the Maple Leafs — winning NHL championships in 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1951 — and appeared in three all-star games.
He finished his NHL career at 30 in the 1953-54 season with 83 goals and 185 points in 388 regular-season games while adding 15 points in 42 playoff contests.
Most famously, he passed the puck to Bill Barilko for the 1951 Cup overtime winner against Montreal.
Skated into his 80s
Among Meeker’s other career highlights was scoring five goals in a 10-4 win over Chicago on Jan. 8, 1947, one of only 44 players to tally five or more times in a game.
He continued to play pro hockey on and off for another 15 years at a variety of levels, including the American Hockey League and Newfoundland Senior League, among others.
Saddened to hear of the passing of Howie Meeker. Truly one of a kind! Working alongside Howie in the HNIC studio will always be on my short list of career highlights. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ThatsHockey?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ThatsHockey</a> <a href=”https://t.co/0D6vZaSFjx”>pic.twitter.com/0D6vZaSFjx</a>
Meeker retired from playing after the 1968-69 season and kept skating into his 80s.
Dick Irvin, a fixture on HNIC for 33 years, told the Montreal Gazette in 2014 that Meeker was the first television analyst to break down the game and criticize players.
“‘You can’t do that!'” Irvin recalled Meeker saying. “‘See what he did? That was wrong! That guy J.C. Tremblay should never have done that. Tim Horton made a mistake! Look at what he’s doing there!’
We are saddened with the news that our friend Howie Meeker passed away this morning at the age of 97 at Nanaimo General Hospital. <a href=”https://twitter.com/MapleLeafs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@MapleLeafs</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/HockeyHallFame?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@HockeyHallFame</a>.Condolences to his wife Leah and family. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RIP?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RIP</a> <a href=”https://t.co/90oVm76Arq”>pic.twitter.com/90oVm76Arq</a>
Meeker spent two years as a Progressive Conservative member of Parliament while playing for the Leafs. He won the federal byelection in the Ontario riding of Waterloo South in 1951 but didn’t seek re-election two years later.
Ran hockey schools, wrote books
In 2010, he was named a Member of the Order of Canada and inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
Meeker, who also called St. John’s home through the years, ran hockey schools for more than 30 years and literally wrote the book on hockey — 1973’s Howie Meeker’s Hockey Basics.
The equipment has changed but this advice from a 1974 episode of <a href=”https://twitter.com/cbcsports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cbcsports</a> “Howie Meeker’s Hockey School” holds up (as does that amazing intro). <br><br>Do you have any tips for new hockey parents? 🏒 <a href=”https://t.co/AqFXSWpmko”>pic.twitter.com/AqFXSWpmko</a>
During the ’70s, he offered up drills and tips during his Howie Meeker Hockey School sessions on CBC.
He later wrote another book called Golly Gee — It’s Me: The Howie Meeker Story. And he never ran short of opinions on how to improve the game he loved.
Howie Meeker couldn’t have been more friendly, enthusiastic or encouraging for a group of young hockey writers starting out in Calgary in the early 80s. I’ll always be grateful for the time spent talking to him, learning from him.
“Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, this is not the way you play NHL hockey!”<br><br>As a kid, used to love Howie Meeker’s “Meekerisms” as an analyst on Hockey Night in Canada. Meeker passed away today at 97. Won Calder with <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/leafs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#leafs</a> in 1946-47. <br><br>RIP Howie.
Meeker had six children with his first wife Grace — they were married for 55 years before she died of cancer. He remarried, living with wife Leah in Parksville on Vancouver Island where they were active in fundraising for the B.C. Guide Dog Services.
Funeral arrangements were pending.