By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - Even as Mark Howe was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, there was no escaping the shadow in which he spent his entire career.
It may have been Mark Howe's moment but the spotlight as ever belonged to his father, "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe, who many consider the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of skates.
Even Wayne Gretzky, known as "The Great One" during his own Hall of Fame career, considered the elder Howe his idol growing up and the silver-haired 83-year-old remains instantly recognizable and a magnet to fans and media.
"As you see, we're doing interviews and he has a much bigger crowd than I," laughed Howe in front of a small group of reporters who were looking over at his father surrounded by cameras and microphones.
"That's what comes with the territory ... part of being Gordie Howe's son is that you are always in the backdrop."
For Mark Howe the scene was nothing new, it was the same as any other day for the son of a sporting icon who gave the hockey world the "Gordie Howe hat trick" -- a goal, an assist and a fight during the same game.
The National Hockey League (NHL) has a long list of fathers and sons who have played in the league, the Howes becoming the fourth father-and-son combo to be enshrined.
But the Howes shared more than hockey genes. They also shared a locker room and now a unique place in the Hockey Hall as the only father and son to play in the NHL together.
Lured by the chance to lineup alongside his sons, Gordie came out of retirement in 1973 (a year after being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame) to join sons Mark and Marty on the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association (WHA).
That season he led the Aeros to the WHA championship, 45-year-old Gordie earning most valuable player honors and Mark rookie of the year.
Mark and Gordie would spend six years in the WHA before it folded and some teams absorbed in the NHL, giving them one season together as team mates on the Hartford Whalers.
A fluid skating All-Star defenseman, Mark would go on to play 16 NHL seasons with Hartford, the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit while building a solid Hall of Fame career.
His resume, which includes 197 goals and 545 assists in 929 NHL games, does not compare to his father's but few do, including the other three members of the 2011 Hall of Fame class: Joe Nieuwendyk; Ed Belfour and Doug Gilmour.
As famous for his elbows and remarkable durability as his goal-scoring prowess, Gordie's packed trophy case contains six Hart Trophies as league MVP, six Art Ross Trophies as the league's leading scorer and four Stanley Cup rings.
"Honors mean nothing in our family without having the family to share it and that's what makes this so special," said Mark. "I have children and have always said, anything my children do will mean far more to me than anything I have ever done in my life.
"I know that's how my parents were and that is the family values I grew up with.
"This would be the proudest day of his (Gordie's) life."
The Howe family patriarch also does not hesitate when asked to pick out the most rewarding moments of a remarkable career -- watching and playing with his boys.
"You always hope for the kids to do well and get a little respect and all of a sudden respect came in a big parcel," said Gordie. "We're a very fortunate family."
Despite growing up as part of the Howe clan, Mark and Marty lived a hockey life without expectations.
As the sons of one of the NHL's greatest players there were perks like working as stick boys at Red Wings games and getting the run of the Olympia Arena while Detroit was on the road.
But for the most part it is a familiar hockey tale filled with days shooting pucks at tin cans off snow banks and evenings slapping tennis balls off the wall in the basement.
"Whatever expectations, media, coaches or other people had of me was pretty insignificant," said Mark. "If somebody wanted me to be Gordie Howe, I was going to lose.
"I would have been a complete failure in my life if I looked at it that."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)