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'Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story' review: Family fun

Gordie Howe, left, the former NHL great, checks

Gordie Howe, left, the former NHL great, checks out the new look for his sons, Marty, center, and Mark, right, after they signed to play with the World Hockey Association team in Houston, Texas. (June 5, 1973) Credit: AP

THE TV MOVIE "Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story"

WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 9 p.m. on Hallmark Channel

REASON TO WATCH It's a family film, a sports flick, a love story. It's three movies in one!

WHAT IT'S ABOUT They say the woman makes the man, but in this case, she makes everything happen. Kathleen Robertson ("Boss," "Tin Man") stars as the late Colleen Howe, wife to Detroit Red Wings giant Gordie (now 85) and son wannabes Mark and Marty. The men of the family made 1970s hockey history by playing together on the Houston Aeros, champs of the insurgent NHL-rival World Hockey Association.

Gordie gets title billing -- and Michael Shanks ("Stargate" shows, "Saving Hope") makes a suitably humble "old man" Howe -- but this movie's motive power is Mrs. Hockey's behind-the-scenes nudging, negotiating and wrangling of her men. She isn't pushy, and Gordie's no pushover, yet she's the hand steering the wheel to change hockey lanes. "Did we just get propositioned by a hockey mom?" asks a WHA coach into whose head Colleen has planted the seed for drafting an "underage" son (contrary to then-NHL rules). "Mr. Hockey" makes it the lead character's choice to then return from retirement, because, hey, you can't have the little lady running everything.

Not that she didn't, to the real-life wonder of some and irritation of others, throughout her life. (Colleen died in 2009.) But the movie sticks to that glorious 1973 WHA season for her three boys, including the 45-year-old comeback kid. There's a "Brady Bunch" vibe to it all, sketching Texas (filmed in Winnipeg) with cowboy clothes, longhorns in the backyard, mechanical bulls in bars, and cockroaches as big as, well, Texas.

MY SAY "Mr. Hockey" doesn't miss a beat. Which makes one wish it had. It's so predictably slick, you end up yearning for a bit of the grit and volatility of, say, "Slap Shot." But this is, after all, a Hallmark movie. At least we see the famously physical Gordie's missing teeth and elevated elbows.

BOTTOM LINE "Old-time hockey" the whole family can watch.


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