Friday, December 18, 2009

Gordie Howe protégé working with Jets

When opposing players go to the penalty box during Metro Jets games at Lakeland Arena, very few, if any, realize that they are in the presence of a Gordie Howe protégé.

It’s true.

Dale Hinton grew up in Portland, Ore., and after his father was transferred to Omaha, Neb., in the 1940s, he took up hockey as a hobby.

“My father was a traveling man and I had started skating when we lived in Fargo (N.D.),” explained Hinton, a retired City of Wayne department of public works employee. “When we moved to Omaha, I used to go out to the Ak-Sar-Ben Field and watch the Omaha Knights. I helped with the sticks, opened the door, stuff like that.

“Then one day, Gordie Howe, who was playing with the Omaha team, asked me if I played hockey and I told him no, and then he asked me to come out and he’d teach me to skate and shoot. When he came up here to Detroit, I played high school hockey Omaha. During my last year, five of us got picked to go play a professional game in Vancouver. They paid us $50, but we can all honestly say we played a professional game.”

After high school, Hinton had a chance to play hockey at Colorado College, only a war was going on in Korea and his hockey career stalled for a couple year.

“I applied for a scholarship to CC and got it, but Uncle Sam said he had dibbs on me,” Hinton said. “When I got back, I knew I would never play hockey in college, so I started playing in a seniors league and coaching and stuff like that.”

Once Hinton came to Michigan in 1954, he was married in 1955 and then moved to Wayne, where he started coaching kids to play hockey – on tennis courts.

“I said, ‘You know what? This is bologna. You can’t play hockey like this,’” said Hinton. “So we started a learn to play deal, and I was in charge of that, and then we had a rink built and started the Wayne Hockey Association. I coached until 1990 when I retired.”

Hinton’s three grandchildren play out of Lakeland Arena, so seeing them play, coupled with his work with Jets, Hinton is “in (his) element.”

“(Metro GM) Butch (Wolfe) put up a sign for minor officials and I thought I could do that,” said Hinton, explaining how he caught on with the Jets. “I was a goal judge, and did that once at Olympia Stadium, and now I’ve been here two years with Jets working in the opponents’ penalty box.”

And it’s a volunteer position he loves.

“I get to talk with opponents and they’re all a good bunch of young men, just peaches,” said Hinton. “Most kids in this league, their goal is hockey, and that’s the name of the game. They all want to go as far as they can.”

As for the Jets, “they’re all a good bunch of kids, but they can’t stay out of penalty box. If they do that, they can beat anybody,” assessed Hinton. “They’ve got some good coaches and they have the team on the right track.”

Still living in Wayne, Hinton said he tries not to miss any of his grandkid’s games at Lakeland, but driving 45 miles one way and having a sick wife at home can be difficult.

“I tried to talk to Mr. (Urban) Rice (Lakeland Arena owner) into giving me an apartment and letting me live here,” laughed Hinton.

“I’ve been a rink rat my whole life – I just love the sport.”


The Jets had a rough weekend at home and were swept Saturday night and Sunday afternoon by the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks.

Saturday night, Tim Hooker scored his first two goals of the season, while Todd Knaus and Brett Grech each had a goal and an assist in a 7-4 loss.

Ian Mercer made 36 saves in goal for Metro.

Sunday afternoon, the Jets suffered a 13-2 defeat, but did get goals from Jon Elliott and Will Saley.

Mercer and R.J. Heath combined to make 49 saves.

The Jets (7-17-0-3) play in the CSHL Showcase in Moline, Ill., this weekend at the Quad City Sports Center. Metro plays Friday and Sunday against Toledo and Saturday and Monday versus Chicago. The team then breaks for the holidays before returning to action Jan. 9-10 at Lakeland Arena for a two-game set with Chicago.


Metro added 20-year-old forward Brian Fox this week. A New Jersey native, Fox “should add depth and a veteran presence,” according to Wolfe.


John Burkart, assistant coach and head recruiter on the 2001-2002 Jets national championship team, has his hands full these days.

Burkart is the director of player personnel for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, an area scout for the NHL and also a firefighter for the city of Detroit.

Photo by Andy Grossman

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