Jiminy Crickets, remembering howie meeker  

March 2, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Keith Schell

I was on my coffee break at work one day in the 1990’s when I saw a little ad in the sports classified section of the newspaper:

Howie Meeker was doing an autograph signing at a little hole-in-the-wall location in the city that upcoming weekend!

To my generation, Howie Meeker was best known as the premier hockey analyst/colour commentator on the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He endeared himself to the nation with his infectious enthusiasm and knowledgeable love of all things hockey.

When dissecting games during intermissions on the Saturday night CBC  hockey broadcasts, how many times did we hear him say to the nation: “Now, back it up a bit….stop it right there! See the forward go around that defenceman? See the defenseman watching the puck instead of the man? Kids, never do that! Always play the man, not the puck. Jiminy Crickets, he went around that defenseman like a hoop around a barrel!”

I always had a soft spot for that excitable, squeaky-voiced hockey analyst in the powder-blue CBC jacket and I had to go and meet him. I had the weekend off so I started making plans.

When I got to his signing there was already a small crowd lined up and waiting. When it was my turn to meet him I said “Hello, Mr. Meeker.” And he replied, with his usual gregariousness, “Mr. Meeker is my Dad. Call me Howie!”

When I put my picture down for him to sign it, I asked if he would sign it with his name, number and his trademark ‘Jiminy Crickets’ expression. And he did! He had just recently come out with his own autobiography and added a couple of other notes to my picture as well.

When he was done signing my picture, I said ‘A pleasure, sir. Thank you.’ and stuck out my hand for a handshake.  

Most athletes, when faced with shaking hands with a fan at an autograph show, usually just stay seated and reach out and shake your hand.

Not Howie Meeker.

He stood up, bent over the table towards me, threw his hand out to the side and brought it in with such a force that you could hear the ‘SMACK’ of his palm hitting my palm halfway across the small room! And he shook my hand so vigorously I thought he was going to shake it right off my wrist! And he did all this with that big ol’ Newfie grin on his face!

Everyone around me was grinning or chuckling and so was I. Howie Meeker had an infectious enthusiasm for life and hockey and brought that passion to everything he did. You could sense it on the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts and I could certainly sense it when he signed my autograph at that show. My experience with him at that show just made me like him even more.  

Howie Meeker lived a very colourful life.

For some reason, I always thought of him as a born-to-the-rock Newfoundlander. Truth is, he was born in Kitchener, Ontario and played his junior hockey in Kitchener and Stratford of the Ontario Hockey Association.

He enlisted in the Canadian Army in WW2 but was released from his combat obligations after being seriously hurt in a training accident with a live grenade. When he finally recovered from his injuries he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1946-47.

He beat out some guy named Gordie Howe for Rookie of the year that season and eventually won four Stanley Cups in eight years with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While playing for the Leafs, he was also the Federal Member of Canadian Parliament for Waterloo South from 1951-1953 (although he did not run again at the end of his term).

He ran summer hockey schools and began his career as a colour commentator for the CBC in 1968, eventually writing books and creating a televised instructional hockey series that aired weekly on CBC during the hockey season to help teach the fundamentals to young hockey players before he later moved on to TSN. Over his broadcasting career he won the Foster Hewitt Memorial award for excellence in hockey broadcasting and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a broadcaster (both in 1998) and was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (in 2010).

After his playing career ended he moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where he lived for two decades and became the jovial, gregarious, dyed-in-the-wool Newfoundlander I always thought him to be.

He was involved in the Special Olympics for over 40 years, helping launch Special Olympics Canada and was an active fundraiser for that cause over much of his life.  

And, in a crowning achievement, he was named a member of the Order of Canada on December 30, 2010. 

I was saddened when I heard that Howie Meeker had passed away while living in British Colombia on November 8, 2020. Because he was an icon on the ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ broadcasts in the 1970’s and 1980’s he became a memorable part of my youth. And I still think of him fondly to this day. 

Truly one of the nicest guys in hockey, Howie Meeker was a good Newfoundlander, a great Canadian and someone you just couldn’t help but like whenever you met him.   

Rest in Peace, Howie.

Jiminy Crickets, you will be missed.  

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