June 10th, 2016

A typical Friday morning was turned upside down by the news that Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, had passed away, skating off into big hockey rink in the sky for the last time.

Pick-up hockey games in heaven are going to be a whole lot more competitive as Gordie joins hockey legends such as: Howie Morenz, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Jean Beliveau, Tim Horton and a host of other stars still playing the game on the other side of life.

The news didn’t come as a complete surprise, as we all knew he hadn’t been well for some time.

Saskatchewan’s favourite son was gone – no longer with us. Father time had finally caught up with the man who defied age, continuing to play hockey at the highest level and breaking scoring records well into his fifties – more than a decade after most pro athletes retire.

How important is Gordie Howe? If the measure of a person is the impact they have on others, then Gordie was more than just an athlete.

Tom Rennie, President of Hockey Canada, spoke eloquently about Mr. Hockey: “Gordie Howe symbolizes the fabric of our country, reminding us of what it’s like to be Canadian, to be a straightforward person, to work hard, to be humble, to be tough and able to persevere no matter what is thrown at us. He just loved playing hockey…his life speaks volumes of what Canadians are all about.”

His records are timeless – 22 seasons with 20 or more goals scored, in the top 5 goal scorers for 20 out of 24 seasons, 23 all-star selections as the best right winger in hockey, 971 goals and 1387 assists… the list goes on and on…

What stands out most about Gordie Howe is not only how only he played the game of hockey but how he conducted himself off the ice.

Talk about a complete player – he could beat you on the scoreboard or beat you in the alley with his incredible strength. In an era where every player had to look after himself, Gordie was as tough, mean and nasty as anyone who ever played the game, creating the space he and his teammates needed to weave their scoring magic. His touch around the net was legendary as he was ambidextrous, which allowed him to shoot the puck either right or left handed.

I could go on and on…but in the end life isn’t just about hockey or sport, it’s a combination of how well we use our God-given talents to impact others. Having had the pleasure of actually meeting Mr. Howe I can attest to what an incredible human being he was.

Here is a sampling of a few things his family has said about him over the past few days:

Son Mark Howe: “I know we’re biased but as wonderful and great a hockey player as he was, it couldn’t hold a candle to the person he was.”

Son Dr. Murray Howe, who spoke so eloquently at the service for his Dad, told a number of  stories that are worth repeating:

 

“My dad, one of the most polite people you would ever meet, opened the door for a woman who said:  “I didn’t ask you to do that. Gordie, slightly annoyed, responded, “I’m sorry, I thought you were a lady!”

 

“My dad just had a special way about him. It’s not something you could teach or learn. He just had a special impact on everyone he met.”

 

“I still pinch myself at the realization that he was my father.”

 

“It was the little things that he did that made him so special – for example, he was never late for anything – to him it was an important courtesy.”

 

Wayne Gretzky, holder of even more hockey scoring records than Gordie Howe, summed up his feelings for Mr. Hockey magnanimously, stating, “Unfortunately, we lost the greatest hockey player ever today, but more importantly, the nicest man I have ever met.”

 

And that is what made him different. He was a big-time athlete who remained true to his roots and lived a good life. Rest in peace, Mr. Hockey.

Click here to read the story of my chance encounter with Gordie Howe.

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