Howard William “Howie” Meeker, hockey broadcaster, player, coach (born 4 November 1923 in Kitchener, ON; died 8 November 2020 in Nanaimo, BC). Howie Meeker won a Junior B hockey championship and served with the army’s Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1946. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1947, and won four Stanley Cups in his first five years with the Maple Leafs. He also served as a Member of Parliament and played a key role in the development of hockey in Newfoundland. He was perhaps best known for his enthusiastic and influential commentary on CBC TV’s Hockey Night in Canada. A Member of the Order of Canada, Meeker was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and the British Columbia Hockey Hall of Fame.
Howie Meeker was presented with the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1947.
Junior Career and Military Service
Howie Meeker began playing hockey in the Ontario Junior B league in 1940. A speedy and pugnacious right-winger, he won the Junior B championship with the Stratford Kist-Canadians in 1942. He joined the army’s Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers (see Military Engineers) in 1943 and was wounded in 1944 when a live grenade exploded beneath his legs during training exercises in England.
Playing with Toronto Maple Leafs
Upon returning to Canada, Meeker joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1946. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1947. That season, he set rookie records for most goals scored in a season (27) and most goals scored in one game (five). He is one of only 44 players in NHL history to score five or more goals in a game.
During the first five years he spent with the Maple Leafs, Meeker won four Stanley Cups (in 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1951, when he assisted Bill Barilko on his famous Cup-winning goal in overtime). He was also a three-time All-Star. Meeker retired from the NHL in 1954, having scored 83 points with 102 assists in 346 regular season games; as well as 15 points in 42 playoff games.
Career in Politics
In 1951, at the behest of federal Progressive Conservative Party leader George Drew, Meeker joined the Tories and won a by-election in his hometown riding of Waterloo South. At 27, he was the youngest Member of Parliament. He continued to sit in office for two years while still playing for the Maple Leafs. He decided not to seek re-election in August 1953.
Coach and General Manager
Plagued by injuries, Meeker embarked on a new career as a coach. A year after guiding the Pittsburgh Hornets to the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League in 1955, Meeker returned to Toronto as coach of the Maple Leafs. After failing to make the playoffs, Meeker joined the Maple Leafs’ front office as general manager in 1957. However, disputes with team owner Conn Smythe and his son Stafford ended Meeker’s association with the organization before the year was over.
Hockey Development in Newfoundland
Howie Meeker accepting a personal invitation from Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood and moved to St. John’s in 1958 to work with that city’s youth hockey program. During his 18-year tenure, Meeker’s work helped unite a hockey system that had been previously divided along religious lines. In 1962, after running the United Church Athletic Association’s Guards hockey program for four years, he created and ran the Consolidated Avalon Minor Hockey program. It consisted of recreational and competitive leagues for elementary school children. Several years later, he created the Juvenile RCMP league, which engaged both Catholic and Protestant youth players.
Career as Broadcaster
Meeker’s reputation as a broadcaster grew soon after he first appeared on Hockey Night in Canada in 1968. His impartial and passionate game analysis, in addition to his use of the Telestrator (a video instant-replay tool), quickly separated him from his colleagues and predecessors. Ralph Mellanby, former executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada, said, “no one broadcaster ever changed TV hockey coverage more than Howie.” Meeker was also easily identified by the colloquialisms he used on air, such as, “golly gee whillikers,” “jumpin’ Jehoshaphat,” and “Jiminy Cricket.” From 1973 to 1977, the CBC also aired Howie Meeker Hockey School, which featured Meeker teaching a group of players fundamental skills and drills. Meeker remained with the CBC until 1990 and continued with TSN until he left broadcasting in 1998.
Howie Meeker was recognized for his many contributions to hockey in Canada. He was inducted into the broadcasting categories in both the Hockey Hall of Fame (1998) and the British Columbia Hockey Hall of Fame (2003). He also received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the NHL Broadcasters Association in 1998. (See Foster Hewitt.) In 2005, his book Howie Meeker's Hockey Basics, published in 1973, was selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the 63rd most important Canadian book of all time. Meeker was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.