The moments, the memories, unsurprisingly, are every bit as compelling as any official chronology of the longevity, the games, the goals, the blinks, that aura of old-guy menace and those not-so-stray elbows.
Mike Rogers, lucky fellow, has his very own scrapbook-full of Gordie Howe snapshots.
One ranking above all else.
“We’re playing against the Winnipeg Jets one night, against (Anders) Hedberg, (Bobby) Hull and (Ulf) Nilsson. In Hartford,” the through-and-through-Calgarian reminisced one time, in equal parts amusement and awe.
“They’re beating us, like, 6-2.
“I’m sitting beside Gordie on the bench and he says: ‘Know what, Mike, I’ve had enough.’ And I’m like: ‘I have, too, Gordie, but what are we going to do about it?’
“He goes out on the ice, next shift, and Hedberg and Nilsson, all of a sudden, are both headed to the dressing room to get stitched. And Bobby’s bleeding. Gordie finally gets a penalty for slicing Bobby. Then gets two more for complaining to the official about why he was getting a penalty.
“He gets back to the bench, I’m sitting beside him again and I say: ‘Gordie, that was unbelievable. Three of them.’ And he says: ‘Yeah. Coulda been worse.’ I say: ‘Whaddaya mean?’ And he says: ‘Well, I like Bobby so I only cut him a little bit.’
“A little bit?!
“But that’s how precise he was with his stick.
“People don’t believe me when I tell them that story. They say: ‘C’mon …
“But that was Gordie. Amazing, that man.”
All told, Mike Rogers had a pretty fair, you could say, underrated, run himself: 367 points in 396 WHA regular-season starts and another 519 in 484 NHL outings.
This was, remember a 100-point-plus contributor his opening three NHL seasons (a distinction shared by only three others: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Peter Stastny) after switching over from the World Hockey Association. Someone who through the years went from Brass Bonanza to Broadway. Someone lucky enough to be able to count as comrades-in-arms, among others, Mr. Hockey, the Great One, the Golden Jet and the man chosen in 2016 as the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf of them all during the franchise’s centennial celebrations.
“Oh, looking back on my career, being a teammate with Gordie and Dave Keon is the highlight for me, for sure,” says Rogers. “I’ve mentioned that numerous times. Unfortunately I never won a championship but I had two idols as a kid and I was lucky enough to be in the same dressing room with both of them.
“I got to call both of them not only teammates but very good friends. That’s something I’ll always cherish.”
Rogers played his final NHL season in ’85-86, modelling the big oil drop up north in Edmonton, where he’d begun his pro career, in the World Hockey Association.
“Twelve years was … enough,” he reckons. “Ann and I wanted to travel; living in Calgary you want to get away in the winter.
“The hockey travel grind had started to get to me a little bit, too. So a lot of factors entered into the decision. I sat down with my wife and said: ‘Had a good run.’ I’d never say a bad thing about those 12 years but they’d kind of took a toll.
“I could’ve signed another contract after my last year in the NHL. But my stats weren’t what they’d been. I knew I wasn’t playing as well as I had and I didn’t want to be one of those guys that just hung on for the sake of it.”
So, taking a flyer, Rogers signed on for one season in an entirely new, invigorating environment, at Ambrì-Piotta, the ‘Bianco-Blu’ of the Swiss League, scoring 21 goals and adding 15 assists over 26 starts.
“I thought: ‘Geez, what a great way to finish a career’,” he recalls. “So packed up – we had two daughters then – and it was a wonderful time.
“I considered the chance to play another year there or maybe go to Italy but when I thought long and hard about it, in my mind it was done. I could’ve hung around in Europe a while.
“But my time had passed.
“Oh sure, there’s always that ‘What if …?’ in the back of your mind. What if I’d hung around another year, ended my career with the Oilers and maybe a chance to win a Stanley Cup? But there are always ifs and maybes in life.
“I just never looked at things that way.
“It wasn’t a Mike Rogers decision. It was a family decision. There was a lot of soul-searching, sure, but what made it easier is that my wife was born and raised in Calgary, too, our parents were still here, brothers and sisters and everything that goes along with that.
“I’d bought four acres out in Springbank in 1980, my oldest daughter was school age and we thought this would be the perfect time to get back to Calgary, build a house and we’ve been here ever since, same house.”
In retirement, Rogers entered the oil-and-gas industry. As an enjoyable sidelight, he spent seven seasons as part of the pre- and post-game Calgary Flames’ radio package and then a dozen more, memorably, as Peter Maher’s colour-commentating sidekick on The Fan 960 radio broadcasts.
“Even when I was on the radio, and I’d be trying to explain ‘my era’ to some of the current Flames players, they’d just be shaking their heads, looking at you like that,” Rogers laughs. “The hockey world today is all about analytics, all about coaching, all about video.
“We had one coach and a three-week training camp, during which you’d try to cut down to maybe 20 pounds over your playing weight. Often, the coach was there just because he’d been a player once; or knew someone in management.
“I knew more about hockey than a lot of the coaches I played for.
“Back when I played, yes, it was our job and, yes, we got paid. But it’s such big business now. We were just as serious as they are and wanted to win just as badly as they do.
“The approach to the career is what’s far different today.”
In July of 2013, Mike Rogers stepped away from the microphone. For the same reason he’d stepped off the ice 27 years earlier.
Because it was time.
“Doing the 12 years on The Fan with Pete was an important time for me. I wanted to do the best job possible. What was good for me was that I was working in the oil and gas industry so when I got back to Calgary I didn’t have to focus on practices and all of that. I had a job to fall back on. The companies were great, allowing me to do that and the station was great about everything, too.”
Today, Rogers is involved with Scorched Ice, a local digital company now in the process of developing a sensor to break down an individual’s skating stride – stopping, starting, cross-over, backwards. You name it.
“The oil patch was getting to the point that wasn’t really the place for me so now I’ve got a little tech company doing some hockey stuff.
“It’s an app that, after you’ve been on the ice or your kid has been on the ice, you can look at their strengths, weaknesses and chart throughout a year,” he explains.
“As much as has been happening in hockey, not much – if anything – has been done in the area of skating. We’ve got that and we’re going to market it next year. We’re extremely excited about it and are partnering with a major skate company.
“So things are falling into place.
“I’ve really kind of enjoyed what you might call semi-retirement. What’s been great is that now I’m calling on former teammates, former GMs, coaches, whatever, getting their opinion and showing them the product. It’s been nice, catching up with everybody.
“I loved the game. Still do. But I just didn’t want it to be part of my life anymore, in that way.
“So I found other things to do.”