GORDIE HOWE'S son made the U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1972, because he was young and tough and smart and not just because he was Gordie Howe's son. USA won the silver medal. Gordie Howe's son was 16. Youngest guy to ever win an Olympic hockey medal. Still is.

You remember Gordie Howe, fierce competitor, Mr. Hockey, Hall of Famer? Scored all those goals after he created space for himself, with his fists, with his elbows, with both ends of his stick.

His fatherly advice on how to deal with a mouthy, clutch-and-grab pest? "Put your stick through his face!"

Words to live by. Mark Howe, Gordie's son, has written a book with Jay Greenberg, who covered the Flyers so eloquently for the Daily News back in the day. It's called "Gordie Howe's Son" and could have been titled "Honor Thy Father."

Cites his dad's opinion that Bobby Orr was the best player ever "because he revolutionized the game to bring defensemen into the offensive play."

Then offers his own rankings. "For me, the most gifted was Mario Lemieux and the most creative was Wayne Gretzky. But if you put all the categories together, to me, Dad was the greatest player of all time. And I might be prejudiced, of course, but I also believe there has never been a better father. Or teammate . . . even if he is your father, too."

Uh-huh. Played on the same line with his dad for the Houston Aeros in the WHA, that upstart other league. They had coaxed Gordie out of retirement at 45, misspelled his name "Goride Howe" on the back of his jersey, and all he did was win the MVP award that first year. Grabbed it by the throat. Played until he was 51, casting a huge shadow at the rink, outside the rink.

Mark survived nicely, got to the Hall of Fame himself. Came within inches of not surviving. Period. He'd moved on to the Hartford Whalers and the NHL. Late December 1980, the Whalers had rallied to take a 5-3 lead over the defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders. (Does that seem long ago, or what?)

The Islanders were on a three-on-two break when John Tonelli crashed into Howe. Knocked him off balance. Sent him sliding into the net, his skates lifting the net, but not off the anchoring rods.

Bam! Howe's backside careened into the ominous edge of the metal piece at the back of the goal. The crash was horrific. He came within inches of dying, within centimeters of paralysis, within millimeters of severing vital organs. He lost 3 1/2 pints of blood.

Gordie Howe raced from the press box to the locker room. Later, he told Mark that on his way down some idiot had asked for his autograph. Mark survived after more than 2 hours of surgery. The surgeon told him he was the luckiest patient he ever had treated, which was even better than being the youngest guy to ever win an Olympic hockey medal.

The Whalers eventually swapped him to the Flyers, which is where the narrative really comes alive. You'd think a guy who'd had his backside sliced by the razor-sharp steel of a goal support would be spared from playing for the maniacal Mike Keenan. No such luck.

Howe can laugh about it now, but back then you didn't dare smile, let alone chuckle in the same ZIP code as Iron Mike, which is what the players called him, among other things.

Opened the season with a tie against Washington. Beat 'em the next game. Two days later, lost a shoddy game in Montreal.

"The next day's optional skate," Howe recalls, "turned into a no-pucks, starts-and-stops torture session . . . Keenan's way of showing us that losing was no longer an option. Keenan pushed more buttons than any coach I've ever seen."

Howe mocks Keenan's playoff pep talk built around the mawkish "I love you guys" refrain. Let the record show that he did not join a festering mutiny against the coach, who got them to the Stanley Cup finals twice.

Sure, Keenan ruled with an iron fist inside a steel-wool glove, but there is a colorful description of a midseason "training camp" interlude with the coach on the ice with his players. They slashed and smashed and battered Keenan for 3 days and then he grinned diabolically and said, "Now you're mine again."

There's joy and there's sorrow and some dry wit. (When they stripped the "A'' off his jersey, he signed autographs "Mrk Howe.'') Plenty of inside stuff too, including Bobby Clarke reacting to a forced late-season "vacation" like he'd been sentenced to a week in Siberia. And how Bill Barber's career ended. And why Howe bailed out of Philadelphia to sign with Detroit.

Ends with a lovely scene at the Hall of Fame induction. Mark yanks on a No. 9 Red Wings jersey, Gordie Howe's number. Yo, there's no crying in hockey.