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Monday, June 13, 2016

'Mr. Hockey' is no more and is forever at the same time

Gordie Howe, considered one of the NHL's greatest players and ambassadors, died Friday at 88.

"His nickname says it all: Mr. Hockey," said Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke. "His impact and legacy are both as broad as his shoulders."

Howe, who turned 88 in March, had been diagnosed with dementia in 2012. He had previously taken care of his wife, Colleen, until she died from complications of Pick's Disease, a form of dementia, in 2009.

During Howe's peak years in the 1950s and 1960s, he seemed more popular than his sport. Howe was often featured in newsreels. The late Detroit Red Wings general manager Jack Adams called Howe "the Babe Ruth of hockey." His fame stretched beyond the confines of the sports pages. His exploits were written about in Look magazine.

Howe’s wife was Colleen Howe, who Gordie met at a bowling alley in Detroit at the age of 17. At the time, Howe was playing for the Detroit Red Wings.

Collen was originally born in Sandusky, Michigan, but she moved with her mom and stepdad to Detroit during high school. She and Howe immediately fell in love, and they were married four years later in 1953.

Colleen and Gordie were married for 56 years until her death in 2009. Collen made a successful career for herself as a sports agent, founding Power Play International and Power Play Publications. She also founded the first Junior A hockey team in the U.S., the Detroit Junior Red Wings. She was given the nickname “Mrs. Hockey.”

He played in, believe it, six decades, joining the Wings in the 1940s and playing a single shift for the Detroit Vipers in the 1990s when he was 69 years of age. Incredibly, he had almost been killed in 1950 when he fractured his skull in a horrible on-ice collision with Toronto’s Ted Kennedy. Doctors thought they would lose him in the emergency ward but he came back, played again and ended up with six National Hockey League scoring championships, six Hart Trophies as the NHL’s best player and 21 all-star selections.

He retired in 1971 and un-retired two years later in order to play with his sons, Marty and Mark, with the Houston Aeros of the upstart World Hockey Association. At 46 he scored 100 points and was named the league’s most valuable player. He played seven years in the WHA, averaging more than a point a game, and in 1979-80 played one final year in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers, suiting up for a remarkable 80 games, scoring 15 goals and 41 points. He was 52 years old. 

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