By @StefanKubus –
DETROIT – Detroit Red Wings and NHL legend Gordie Howe will be laid to rest Wednesday morning.
But on Tuesday, fans had the opportunity to say their farewells to Mr. Hockey inside Joe Louis Arena from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (the time is no coincidence either given Gordie’s famous jersey number).
By the time the arena doors opened to the public, there was already a substantial line wrapping around the building, just further illustrating Howe’s impact.
Walter and Wayne Gretzky, Scotty Bowman and Steve Yzerman were among the first batch of iconic hockey figures to arrive at Joe Louis Arena to pay their respects.
Photos by Michael Caples/MiHockey
The Great One, who wore No. 99 in honor of Howe, idolized Mr. Hockey growing up, calling him a “second father” and said his kindness was astounding to all he met.
“It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from, he was comfortable talking to everyone and people were comfortable talking to Gordie,” Gretzky said. “As I always said, he was the greatest hockey player that ever lived and happened to be the nicest man I’ve ever met. There’s not too many people that say anything wrong or bad about Gordie Howe. He was a genuine man. I was telling his sons today, you look at pictures of Gordie, remember Gordie at hockey games. Gordie never sat in the box or suite, he always sat with all the fans. He understood who he was and it didn’t bother him to take pictures or sign autographs and be part of society in that way. He was very humble.”
The former Red Wings’ Hall of Fame captain and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM said it was Howe’s humility and respectfulness that will always stick with him.
“Simply, he’s just a really nice man,” Yzerman said. “I think the first time I actually met him was just down the hall, walking when I was drafted, my first time literally walking down to the locker room, a small group of people which included Gordie walking by, and he just walked up and introduced himself, shook my hand, and as he does with everyone, took some time to talk, tell a couple stories of when he was 18 years old, and from that point on, just a nice man. Always thoughtful, time to spend, as much time as he could with anyone, tell stories, talk about the Red Wings, talk about the NHL and his experiences. For someone, one of the best athletes in the world at his time, in his era, one of the best hockey players, two or three to ever play, to be that humble and polite and respectful to people was good for us all to learn from.”
Bowman said that if someone were to make a mold of the perfect hockey player, they would use Gordie Howe.
“I never wavered from the fact because I saw him play at his best – there couldn’t be a player that could do everything like he could,” Bowman said.
“Obviously, the fact that I saw him play before I knew him, and thinking back – I sort of remembered how great of a player he was….and also as a man, to meet him, he was always coming over and always had a story,” the legendary head coach said later in his press conference. “I never heard him be negative on anything, and he was always trying to pull somebody else. I even noticed it with our team when we were here, he would gravitate to players, it was like when I was at Montreal, when I was coaching there Toe Blake was retired, and Toe would always come in after a game, especially in the playoffs, and he would search out somebody who had a tough game or a young guy who didn’t play that much. Gordie had that ability – he didn’t go right to the stars all the time.”
Detroit Tigers great Al Kaline also paid his respects to Mr. Hockey at The Joe. Kaline often played golf with Howe and remained friends over the years. Kaline shared the story of when he first met Howe.
“I first met Gordie Howe in 1956, I had just moved from Baltimore here,” Kaline said. “I just won the batting title here, so I figured I’d be with Detroit for a few years before they got rid of me, so I moved to Detroit, bought a home, went to my first hockey game at Olympia with my friend Frank who was also a friend of Gordie’s. So we went to the hockey game, afterward went out to eat at Carl’s Chophouse, which used to be down by Motor City Casino. That was my first meeting with Gordie, we became very friendly after that, played a lot of golf together at Plum Hollow Golf Course and we’ve been friends for a long, long time.
“What gets me more, everyone knows how great of a hockey player he was, maybe the greatest hockey player of all time, but what got me was how great he was off the ice, around people, around kids and he never turned people down. He was always friendly to them and that, to me, was why the people in Detroit and people in hockey everywhere loved Gordie Howe.”
Current Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill said seeing the numerous legends brought together for Howe’s visitation truly speaks to how vast his impact was.
“When you get to see those types of individuals travel here today and tomorrow, just what he meant to the game… I think that’s the great thing about hockey is the traditions that are passed down and he had such a big impact on the game and such a big impact,” Blashill said. “To see Gretzky there and Scotty Bowman, it’s a pretty cool thing.”
Red Wings GM Ken Holland also spoke to Mr. Hockey’s kindness and respect for everyone he came in contact with.
“Many times, Mark would say I’m bringing Gordie to a game, and we would visit in my office, and then as he’s walking around the bowels of Joe Louis Arena, Gordie had time for everybody,” Holland said. “I think because of Gordie’s humbleness, because of his passion, because of how much he cared about the sport, the people and the fans, and over time you knew it was genuine – you knew it was real. He was obviously, Hockeytown was created here in the 50s with what Gordie and his teammates accomplished, and I just think that he was larger than life.”
In lieu of flowers, the Howe family asks that fans instead make a donation to one of the following charitable organizations:
The Gordie Howe Traumatic Brain Injury Initiative (www.ghi4tbi.org or mail a check to ProMedica Foundations, 5217 Monroe St., Suite A-1, Toledo, OH 43623);
The Howe Foundation (3128 Walton Blvd., #255, Rochester Hills, MI 48309)
The Gordie Howe Fund for Alzheimer’s Research (Saskatoon Community Foundation, 101-308 Fourth Ave. North, Saskatoon, SK Canada, S7K 2L7).