The name Howie Meeker conjures up different memories for many people, depending on the age. Older generations remember Meeker as a solid NHL hockey player with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1940s and 1950s. Younger generations may better recall his television colour commentary work on Hockey Night in Canada and other assorted broadcasts throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He also ran his own hockey school and had his own television show designed for helping young players to improve their skills.
Meeker began his ascent to the NHL in 1939-40 when he joined the New Hamburg Hahns of the OMHA at the age of 15. The following year he was selected to play for the Kitchener Greenshirts of the OHA Junior B league. In just nine games, he potted 13 goals and 23 points. In 1941-42 he suited up for the Stratford Kist of the same Junior B league where he led all players with 29 goals while finishing with 45 points in only 13 games. He continued his torrid scoring pace in the playoffs, scoring 13 goals and 14 points in nine games.
Meeker played one more year of junior hockey, dividing his time between the Stratford Kroehlers and the Brantford Lions of the OHA before missing the next two years due to military service during World War Two. He was badly injured during his service, when a grenade went off between his legs. Thankfully, he made a full recovery. He returned to hockey for the 1945-46 season at the age of 21, joining the Stratford Indians of the OHA Senior A. In seven games he had eight goals and 13 points. It was this strong play that earned him notice from the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, who proceeded to sign him to a free-agent contract on April 13, 1946. In his rookie year with the Maple Leafs, Meeker appeared in 55 games, scoring 27 goals and 45 points, which was good enough to earn him the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, beating out other big names including Detroit's Gordie Howe. He also tied the NHL record of most goals scored in one game by a rookie when he scored five against the Chicago Black Hawks on January 8, 1947.
The post season was every bit as successful for Meeker and the Maple Leafs, who went on to win the first of three consecutive Stanley Cup championships. In 1947, Meeker scored four goals and four assists in the playoffs as the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the championship finals. In 1948 they upended Howe and the Red Wings in four straight games and turned the same trick again in 1949. Meeker missed a good portion of the 1948-49 regular season due to a collarbone injury, sustained in a practice. However, he was a key contributor in the playoffs as the Leafs took their third consecutive championship.
Meeker was a member of a fourth Stanley Cup championship with Toronto, in 1950-51 where they defeated the Canadiens four games to one on the famous overtime Cup winning goal by defenseman Bill Barilko. He played another three years in a Leafs' uniform but never attained the level of offensive success throughout his career that he did in that first rookie season of 1946-47. During his playing days with the Maple Leafs, Meeker was a member of the "Tricky Trio" line with Ted Kennedy and Vic Lynn. He was named head coach of the Maple Leafs on Apr. 11, 1956, replacing King Clancy. He coached the leafs only one season, leading them to a 21-34-15 record, and became GM the next season.
Meeker was finished playing in the NHL by the age of 29, but he continued to play professional hockey for another 15 years, although it was sporadic. He suited up for the Pittsburgh Hornets of the AHL, the St. John's City Council of the SJCSL, the Concepcion Bay Ceebees of the Newfoundland Senior League, the St. John's Guards ad the St. John's Feildians, all of the SJSHL before retiring after the 1968-69 campaign at the age of 44.
Following a thirty-year career on 'Hockey Night in Canada' and TSN, Meeker was honoured with the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in 1998, joining the Hall of Fame in the Broadcaster Category. He was best remembered for such phrases as "golly gee willikers" and "stop it right there!" his note to the video technicians he wanted the replay stopped while showing viewers various plays on his telestrator during intermissions. Some other interesting background on Meeker which most people don't know is that he served four years in Canadian Parliament following his days as a player in the NHL. He also published a book called "Golly Gee - It's Me: The Howie Meeker Story" in 1999 and his cousin, Mike Meeker, also played pro hockey, including 4 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1978-79.