Sunday, 25 September 2016

Blades nail it with “Thank You Mr. Hockey Day”

Gordie Howe's four children take part in a ceremonial faceoff.
    The Saskatoon Blades got it right when it came to remembering Gordie Howe.
    On Sunday morning, the hockey icon’s ashes and those of his wife, Colleen, were interred at the base of the Gordie Howe statue that sits in front of the SaskTel Centre. Gordie passed away earlier this year on June 10 at age 88. Colleen passed away on March 6, 2009 at age 76.
    A private interment ceremony open to 61 members of the Howe family started off a day a festivities to honour Gordie in his hometown area in what the Blades dubbed as “Thank You, Mr. Hockey Day.”
    The makings of what happened on Sunday started when Blades president Steve Hogle contacted members of the Howe family over the summer looking for permission to hold a special day to honour Gordie in Saskatoon. Gordie was born in a farmhouse in Floral, Sask., which is just south of Saskatoon, and moved to “the Bridge City” at age 9.
A fan gets her picture taken with the Gordie Howe statue.
    While talking to Gordie and Colleen’s children, Hogle discovered that one of Gordie’s wishes was to have his and Colleen’s ashes interred at the base of the Gordie Howe statue at the SaskTel Centre. Hogle made the offer to make that happen setting the wheels in motion for a tribute day, which also led into the Blades WHL regular season home opening game against the Swift Current Broncos.
    Following the ceremony, the Howes were taken to Lookout Point in Diefenbaker Park to see the name of the Circle Drive South Bridge was renamed the Gordie Howe Bridge. They then proceeded to visit King George School, which Gordie attended, and one of Gordie’s childhood homes.
    Everything shifted back to the SaskTel Centre from there. A tailgate party started in the parking lot at 12 p.m., and the doors to the rink opened at 1 p.m.
Logan Flodell and the Blades warm up in Gordie Howe jerseys.
    Spectators flocked around the Gordie Howe statue in the two hours leading up to the game, and many had their pictures taken with the statue. Inside the rink, fans checked out a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit that featured a number of Howe items including one of his Detroit Red Wings jerseys from his NHL days and a Houston Aeros jersey from his WHA days.
    Some Howe family photos were also on display at various locations on the main concourse area.
    The Blades players also took the ice for warm up all wearing #9 Gordie Howe Detroit Red Wings jerseys.
    At 2 p.m., the Blades started into a stirring 25-minute pre-game tribute ceremony for Gordie. Fans got to see an impressive tribute video featuring a whole bunch of archival footage of Gordie’s playing days and also interviews that were done on local television. In some instances, it was surprising to realize that some of that footage still existed.
    Legendary Hockey Night In Canada play-by-play voice Bob Cole was the emcee for the tribute. Former NHL players in Hockey Hall of Fame member Bryan Trottier, Morris Lukowich and Gerry Pinder all took attention grabbing Gordie stories.
Bryan Trottier speaks to the SaskTel Centre crowd.
    All three had deep Saskatchewan roots as Trottier is from Val Marie, Lukowich was born in Speers and played his minor hockey growing up in Saskatoon and Pinder is a Saskatoon product.
    Howe's children in sons Mark, Marty and Murray and daughter Cathy all took part in dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff.
    “I think a reflection on Saskatoon and the province of Saskatchewan is absolutely magnified because of Gordie Howe,” said Trottier in a media scrum after the ceremony. “All of us who know the name Gordie recognize what he meant to the game of hockey.
    “For the kids that have ever played hockey, for all the hockey that is going on in Canada in and around these little small communities, there is a belief. There is a belief that you can make it. Gordie provided that for all of us. “
    Due to playing a combined 32 seasons in the NHL and WHA, Howe was idolized by a few generations of hockey players, and Trottier, Lukowich and Pinder all looked up to “Mr. Hockey.”
    No matter where Gordie went or how famous he became, he returned to Saskatoon on a regular basis, and the citizens of Saskatoon always saw Gordie as one of their own.
    “This is his hometown,” said Trottier. “This is our guy that grew up here in Saskatchewan.
    “He reflects well on all the values that are from Saskatchewan whether it is family (or) whether it is hockey.”
Centre Jesse Shynkaruk zips up ice for the Blades.
    The only thing that didn’t go right was the fact the Blades, who wore special Gordie Howe themed jerseys, dropped a 6-0 decision to the Broncos before 6,359 onlookers. Calvin Spencer scored twice for the Broncos, while Noah King, Brandan Arnold, Tyler Steenbergen and Tyler Adams had singles. Travis Child made 28 stops to earn the shutout in goal for Swift Current, while Brock Hamm turned away 25 shots suffering the loss in goal for the Blades.
    The result of the clash between the Blades and Broncos seemed secondary, because everyone was caught up in Gordie Howe fever.
    As you walked out the door, the Blades had one more surprise. Everyone that left received a Gordie Howe poster, and three of the pictures on the bottom came from the festivities of the day. Somehow, the Blades were able to put the mechanics in motion to the point you were able to go home with an unexpected cool keepsake.
    The Blades hit all the positive checkmark points, which included ones you didn’t even think of.
    Somewhere, you had to think Gordie was grinning. For those that came to the SaskTel Centre, they got to enjoy a day they will always remember, as Saskatoon’s biggest hero came home to rest forever.

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