Sunday, 8 February 2015

Gordie’s legend lives on

A Gordie Howe card from the early 1990s.
   Gordie Howe keeps finding a way to elbow Father Time to the ground.
   "Mr. Hockey" was back in his hometown area on Friday as the guest of honour for the 55th annual Saskatoon Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner. He is from Floral, Sask., which is a small town just south of Saskatoon. The crowd at TCU Place gave him a warm and loud standing ovation, when he appeared to take his seat at the head table.
   For a moment in time, the people were engage in hero worship of an 86-year-old hockey icon who always seemed larger than life. In all accounts, it was a miracle Howe was in Saskatoon at all on Friday.
   Late last year, Howe, who is already battling dementia, suffered two strokes that physically hampered his ability to do anything. The legendary right-winger with the Detroit Red Wings was taken to Mexico for stem-cell treatments, which involved spinal injections to help fine tune his motor skills. Howe's health improve dramatically, and he was able to get move around well enough physically to be cleared to travel to Saskatoon.
   While his recovery to this point is amazing, a realistic awareness still existed of Howe's own mortality on this visit. The Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner was billed as Howe's final public appearance. Hockey legends like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull and Brett Hull all flocked to the Bridge City.
A Gordie Howe card from the 1980s.
   A whole pile of national medial also descended on Saskatoon for the festivities. Most media were barred from the dinner itself, which also proved to be another sign that Howe's health wasn't the greatest.
Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon was one of the few media members allowed into the dinner. He wrote that Howe appeared overwhelmed by the mob of people that clamoured around him looking for the perfect mobile phone picture, when the man who played 32 professional seasons in both the NHL and WHA first appeared.
   Nugent-Bowman said Howe stumbled slightly and his son Murray took hold of him. Howe regained his balance and flashed a quick smile.
   If Howe had some difficulties there, you can only imagine what it would have been like had a horde of media followed his every move.
   Howe was looking good from pictures and videos that are available over various platforms from that night, but he also looked frail too. He definitely did not look like the man who took the ice in his final full professional season in 1979-80 to thunderous ovations dressing for the NHL's Hartford Whalers. Those ovations often turned to boos in opposing rinks, when at age 51 he would elbow an opponent and start an incident.
   He also collected 15 goals and 26 assists, while playing all 80 regular season games in that campaign for the Whalers, which is also mind-boggling to think about.
A Gordie Howe card from the 1990s.
   That was also the beauty of Gordie Howe. In fantasy, he was ageless. He was named the NHL's most valuable player six times, and after two years of his first retirement, he returned to play in the rebel WHA league for the 1973-74 season with the Houston Aeros to be teammates with sons Mark and Marty.
   After piling up 31 goals and 69 assists in 70 regular season games in that campaign, Gordie Howe was named the WHA's most valuable player. He helped the Aeros win the Avco Cup as league champions in 1974 and 1975.
   The visit in Saskatoon was a big nostalgia trip. For one night, all those that idolized Howe still saw him lighting up the scoreboard offensively, sticking up for his teammates when the going got rough and winning four Stanley Cup titles with the Red Wings. The night also saw Howe gain another honour as the Kinsmen Arena was renamed Gordie Howe Kinsmen Arena.
   It also seems everyone has their own story about meeting Gordie Howe.
   He might not be his best as far as health is concerned, but that hasn't diminished how he is viewed.
   As was seen on Friday night in Saskatoon, the image of Gordie Howe – the larger than life hero – lives on.

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