The focus of the film is on the World Hockey Association's 1973-74 season, when the then 45-year-old Howe came out of retirement to play for the Houston Aeros with two of his sons, Mark and Marty. Gordie Howe helped Houston win the WHA title and was MVP of the league that later merged with the NHL.
“Marty and I had a lot of input with the script,” Mark Howe said. “My dad couldn't really help much because he doesn't remember most of that stuff.”
Howe, who turned 85 last month, has what his son, Dr. Murray Howe, describes as severe short-term memory loss.
In the movie, Michael Shanks plays the role of Gordie Howe, and Kathleen Robertson portrays his late wife, Colleen Howe.
“Mr. Hockey is hard to imitate, but Michael Shanks did as good of a job as you could do, trying to be my dad,” Murray Howe said Thursday. “Kathleen Robertson, a beautiful woman obviously, really nailed the essence of my mom, who really broke down a lot of barriers in the old-boys network.”
Colleen Howe, who died in 2009 with Pick's disease, a rare form of dementia similar to Alzheimer's, was one of the first female sports agents, and she negotiated contracts with the Aeros for her husband and sons. The film is dedicated to her.
“As far as I'm concerned, she should be in the Hall of Fame with Gordie and Mark because she was a trailblazer,” said Howard Baldwin, one of the film's executive producers. “She played a big role in the point and time in Gordie's career that we revolved our story around. Beyond being one of the greatest hockey players of all time, what makes Gordie's story so interesting is when he played professionally with his two boys. We think that's why it makes this a great, family story.”
The movie starts in Detroit, showing Howe playing for the Red Wings, his team from the 1946-47 season through the 1970-71 season. It ends back in the Motor City at Joe Louis Arena in the 1980 All-Star game, where he returned as a 52-year-old member of the Hartford Whalers and was an NHL All-Star for the 22nd time.
In between, it chronicles the season that was regarded as a publicity stunt until Mr. Hockey showed he still had it. He had 100 points in 70 games for the Aeros and, of course, spent a lot of time in the penalty box for starting his own fights and finishing battles his sons were a part of on the ice.
“I'd tell my dad, 'I appreciate you trying to defend me, but wait until I get out the way because you're going to kill me,'” Mark Howe recalled.
Mike Ilitch Jr., whose father owns the Red Wings, is one of the executive producers. He said he has wanted to collaborate on a movie about Howe for years.
“I've been in the film business for a long time, but this project really comes from the heart,” he said. “This hits a real sweet spot for me because my mom and dad, long before they owned the team, used to take me to the Olympia to watch Gordie Howe play.”