Gordie Howe would celebrate a 'class act' like Patrick Marleau breaking his record, says son

Patrick Marleau expected to beat fellow Saskatchewan native Gordie Howe’s long-standing record for most NHL games played. Howe's son says the hockey legend would be "thrilled" for the San Jose Shark, who is known for humble dedication.

San Jose Shark Patrick Marleau expected to beat Howe’s record for most NHL games played

Gordie Howe, in November 1967, during his time with the Detroit Red Wings. San Jose Sharks left wing Patrick Marleau in a game against the New York Islanders on Feb. 23, 2020. On Monday, Marleau is expected to beat Howe's long-time record for most NHL games played. (The Associated Press)

Gordie Howe, Saskatchewan's most famous hockey icon, always said records were meant to be broken, according to his son, Murray Howe.

And if Gordie were alive today, Murray said, he'd be excited to see another Saskatchewan native, Patrick Marleau, break his longtime record for most NHL games played — expected to happen Monday night in Las Vegas, barring anything unforeseen. 

"I think he'd be very thrilled and the first out on the ice to applaud Patrick on this really incredible milestone," Murray said.

Gordie Howe, who had the nickname Mr. Hockey, set the record of 1,767 NHL games played before he retired in 1980 at age 52. Howe died in 2016 when he was 88.

Marleau, 41, tied the record on Saturday night in Minnesota.

Murray said he's also happy to see his dad's record will be broken by Marleau, someone lauded for the same dedication, passion and humility as Gordie Howe, who "never put himself up on a pedestal."

"[Marleau] is a class act," he said. "Just in the same way that Gretzky broke Dad's scoring records, it was great to see it accomplished by someone who was humble and dedicated to the game and grateful for the things that he had."

As Monday approaches, Marleau's family is also cheering him on, from the Saskatchewan farm where he first fell in love with the game.

WATCH | Brush up on the career of Patrick Marleau in 90 seconds:

9 facts about Patrick 90 seconds

1 year ago
Duration 2:09
With Patrick Marleau set to break Gordie Howe's all-time games played record, Rob Pizzo looks at 9 things you may not know about his memorable career.

Shooting pucks by the barn

Marleau grew up on his parent's farm near Aneroid, Sask., 250 kilometres southwest of Regina.

His mother, Jeanette, a retired teacher, remembers how her two sons, Richard and Patrick, would play mini-stick hockey in the kitchen on her linoleum floor. 

"If I would wax [the floor], they would use their socks and they would polish it at the same time. They'd be playing hockey and [polishing]," she said.

Richard took masking tape and spelled out "NHL" on the back of their jerseys. 

Denis Marleau and his two sons, Richard and Patrick, right, at their home near Aneroid, Sask. Now in his 23rd NHL season, Patrick Marleau said he still loves the game. (Submitted by Teresa Marleau)

"There were a lot of battles on the kitchen floor. It seemed like we'd just get wound up on a Saturday night when Hockey Night in Canada would start playing … and then Mom would say 'Oh no, it's time for bed' just when things got really good," he said, with a chuckle. 

But Marleau's singular focus on honing his skills began to set him apart from other young players.

His father, Denis, who still farms at age 74, remembers how Patrick would haul an ice cream container full of pucks out to the barn and practice his shot off a sheet of plywood.

"You'd always knew where he was on the farm. You could hear this bang, bang — the pucks hitting the boards," said Denis. "We didn't have to tell him to do anything about hockey. He just loved it."

At Christmas one year, Marleau's parents gave him an instructional video by Mario Lemieux, his favourite player, on VHS and he played it over and over.

"I'm sure he wore that tape out. He watched it for hours," said Denis.

Marleau grew up playing hockey in small rinks around Aneroid, Saskatchewan, 250 kilometres southwest of Regina. (Submitted by Teresa Marleau)

Hard work and a bit of luck

Marleau was selected by San Jose in the 1997 NHL Draft.

The team's veteran goaltender Kelly Hrudey said he saw something special in the young rookie and so he, along with his wife Donna and three daughters, invited Marleau to live in their guesthouse. Hrudey said he could tell that Marleau was raised by his parents to be kind, and he hasn't changed today.

"Very, very humble. For all that he's accomplished, and things he's done in his career and all the money he's made, to me he hasn't changed," said Hrudey.

WATCH | Why Kelly Hrudey invited Patrick Marleau to come stay:

Kelly Hrudey tells CBC's Bonnie Allen why he invited rookie Patrick Marleau to live in his guesthouse in 1997

1 year ago
Duration 2:08
Sportsnet NHL analyst Kelly Hrudey said his enthusiasm was waning in the final years of his NHL career. Then, Sharks' rookie Patrick Marleau moved into his guesthouse and inspired him to love the game again.

The NHL analyst for Sportsnet credits Marleau's long career to his unique combination of skill, smarts, and passion, as well as Marleau's intense off-ice training and a bit of luck that have helped him escape injury.

"He's had a body that just refuses to break down and that's what's very, very rare," said Hrudey.

On Thursday, Marleau spoke to reporters in a virtual press conference. 

"I just love being out there and playing. Obviously every kid's dream is to hoist that Stanley Cup, so I've been chasing it all this time," said Marleau. He has yet to win a NHL championship.

Marleau poses with his parents, Jeanette and Denis, after winning a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. (Submitted by Teresa Marleau)

Marleau, who didn't mention retirement, said he hopes he'll be remembered as a player who loved the game, his team, and winning.

"Ya know, I gave it my all," he said. 

Murray Howe, a physician who now lives in Toledo, Ohio, said his dad Gordie had the same attitude and was never driven or distracted by his statistics or records. 

"It is more about doing what he loves and feeling fortunate that he could do it as long as he could and do it at the level that he did," he said.

"When Dad finally hung up the blades, he knew he left everything out on the ice and I think he's equally proud of anyone  who does the same thing out on the ice, including Gretzky and Patrick [Marleau]."

San Jose Sharks centre Marleau, left, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of an NHL hockey game on April 6 in San Jose, Calif. (Tony Avelar/The Associated Press)


Bonnie Allen

Senior reporter

Bonnie Allen is a senior news reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. She has covered stories from across Canada and around the world, reporting from various African countries for five years. She holds a master's degree in international human rights law from the University of Oxford. You can reach her at


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