Tuesday in Calgary staged an incredible night for hockey’s greatest one-game one-man achievement: the Gordie Howe hat trick.
Overshadowed by Calgary Flames forward Curtis Glencross’s four-point onslaught, which led the Flames over the New Jersey Devils 6-3, was the rarest of NHL feats. Both Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, he of the 500-plus career goals, and New Jersey’s Adam Henrique, he of the NHL’s rookie scoring lead, notched a goal, an assist (full disclosure: Iggy had two helpers), and a fight all in the same game. Not only did Henrique and Iginla double-down on a Gordie, their fight game against each other.
Symmetry and history collided beautifully in Cowtown, shining a bright light on hockey’s bruised-knuckle version of hitting for the cycle. Furthermore, according to available yet disputable data, Iginla surpassed Brendan Shanahan and now holds the unofficial record for career Gordie Howe hat tricks with 10.
Named after the well-rounded, tough-as-two-day-old-grits Detroit Red Wings and Hartford Whalers legend, the Howe hatty has never been an official NHL stat. (Nor is it an official beer-league stat, but any hump with a jockstrap knows precisely how many he’s had.) the Hockey News only began compiling GHHT statistics during the 1996-97 season — Iginla’s rookie campaign, fittingly enough.
Prior to Tuesday’s tilt, Shanahan, now the league’s chief disciplinarian, and Iginla were “officially” knotted at nine apiece; although, to be fair, since Shanahan’s career began in 1987, some statisticians have his GHHT career total at 17. Skilled journeyman winger Rick Tocchet (1984-2002) is also estimated to have recorded 17 Gordies in his career. Regardless, it is safe to say that Iginla is the hands-down (or, I supposes, hands-up) leader among active players.
“I’d never heard of it until I’d had quite a few of them,” Shanahan told NHL.com in 2010. “It didn’t get media attention until four or five years ago. They started counting in my 10th year. One list had me at nine and then they went back and counted and found more. No teammate ever mentioned it to me until my last one.
“All of a sudden, someone would print these lists every time Gordie had a birthday. By then, I was too old to get more. Players might be more aware of it now. If you get two of the three, someone might say, ‘Hey, all you need is a goal.’ I think it happens more if you have a fight and one of those two other things. Nobody ever says, ‘Hey, you’ve got a goal and an assist, go get in a fight.’”
Brendan Morrow, Keith Tkachuk, Sean Avery, Joe Thornton, Shane Doan, Vincent Lacavalier, and Bill Guerin are among the recent players with at least three GHHTs in their careers. The goal-assist-fight trifecta has been achieved by the sportsmanlike (Pavel Datsyuk), the gigantic (Zdeno Chara), and the unsung (Brent Burns).
According to the Official Guide to the Players of Hockey Hall of Fame, the first documented Gordie Howe hat trick belongs to Hall of Famer Harry Cameron of the Toronto St. Pats, who put up marker in each of a skater’s highlight categories on Dec. 22, 1920, eight years before Howe was born.
As for Mr. Hockey himself, a living mythological figure and Wayne Gretzky’s childhood hero, most NHL fans would be shocked to learn that the namesake of the Gordie Howe hat trick has only two recorded Gordie Howe hatties himself. (Which is kind of like finding out later that Lou Gerhig only had symptoms of Lou Gerhig’s disease.) Howe posted his first GHHT on Oct. 11, 1953 when he fought the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Fernie Flaman, set up a goal for Red Kelly, and scored one of his own. Later that season, on March 21, 1954, Howe repeated the feat, again versus the Leafs. No. 9 scored the game’s opener, assisted on a pair of Ted Lindsay scores, and dropped the gloves with Ted “Teeder” Kennedy.
That even the man who the trick is coined after only notched two is telling of the Gordie’s rarity. While best estimates place the all-time GHHT leader with 17, the career mark for run-of-the-mill three-goal hat tricks is 50, set by Gretzky. Fifteen NHL players have scored at least 20 non-Gordie hat tricks; Teemu Selanne, 11th all-time, is the active leader with 22.
Even scarcer is the Double Gordie, practically the Halley’s Comet of statistical phenomena. What Henrique and Iginla pulled off on Tuesday night had only been accomplished once before, making the event even less common than a goaltender scoring a goal. On March 9, 2010, Fedor Tyutin and Ryan Getzlaf fought each other. Tyutin also scored a goal and two assists that game, while Getzlaf notched one of each.