Harry Howell

Here is an interesting trivia question. Who was the last player in to win the Norris Trophy as best defenseman before the arrival and subsequent dominance of the trophy by Bobby Orr?

The answer: Harry Howell.

It could be said that Howell was the last defensive defenseman to win the trophy, as the award took on a different definition after Bobby Orr.

Harry Howell played 24 NHL seasons and three more in the WHA. When he retired no defenseman had played more big league games than the ironman Howell.

Ironman would be an appropriate nickname for the man who never played for a Stanley Cup winner. In his first 16 NHL seasons he missed an amazingly minuscule total of just 17 games.

Although not an overly aggressive rearguard he used his hockey sense to become an extremely effective defensive player. He was quite the unsung hero, buried with the largely unsuccessful Rangers. It was rare that he was rightfully recognized as one of hockey's top players. In fact it was not until 1966-67, his 15th year in the league, that he was honored with the Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman and with all star status.

Although not regarded as an offensive threat by today's standards, Howell was a slick passer who always made the safe play. He was a reliable work horse who could always be counted on to bring his steady game every night of the week. A master of the poke check, his understated brilliance was certainly appreciated by his coaches and teammates, especially his goaltenders. He always was able to steer oncoming attackers to the boards and away from scoring spots.

Howell was all too happy to play in the shadows of more popular defense partners. His most notable co-workers were the belligerent Lou Fontinanto, a Manhattan fan favorite, and Doug Harvey, to that time the greatest defenseman of all.

“They don’t come much better than Harry," Harvey said soon after joining the Rangers.

"The thing that makes him the great hockey player he is," Emile Francis once said "is that the quality of his game seldom varies. Some defensemen, they look like all-stars one night, or maybe for three games in a row, and then they tail off. But Harry, he's like the Rock of Gibraltar."

Francis added "Hockey is a game of mistakes, and Harry doesn't make many of them."

Howell would have stops in Oakland, Los Angeles and the WHA after 17 seasons with the Rangers where he was captain for two years and one year was a playing assistant coach.

In 1979 he was elected to Hockey's Hall of Fame.


Anonymous,  9:22 PM  

Harry Howell is bloody amazing - we are fans forever!

Anonymous,  5:44 AM  

i had the privalage of meeting mr howell in 2011 what a fantastic guy.

eva unit zero,  6:29 PM  

It *could* be said that Howell is the last defensive defenseman to win it. However, that would be wrong. Howell won it in 1967 with a career-high 40 points. Rod Langway won twice (1983 and 1984) with 32 and 33 points in a much higher scoring era. Langway only reached 40+ for Montreal in 80-81; playing alongside Larry Robinson and Serge Savard, and behind Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt.

Paul,  12:33 PM  

When Howell was presented with the Norris Trophy he said, "I'm glad I won the Norris Trophy this year because there's somebody in Boston who will win it for the next 10 years" or something to that effect.

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