Mr. Hockey is coming home one last time. Gordie Howe‘s ashes and those of his wife, Colleen, will be interred at the base of the Howe statue outside SaskTel Centre as part of a celebration of the NHL legend set to take place Sept. 25.
On Tuesday, the Saskatoon Blades unveiled their plans for a special tribute to Howe that will coincide with the team’s home opener.
Blades president Steve Hogle said learning that one of Howe’s final wishes was to be interred at the statue set the wheels in motion for “Thank You Mr. Hockey Day,” as it has now been proclaimed by the City of Saskatoon.
“We wanted to plan a really special day and when we found out about the ashes and then went to work to make that happen – and it is happening – I think that takes it to a whole new level,” Hogle said.
As part of the tribute, the Blades will wear special commemorative jerseys in their first home game of the season against the Swift Current Broncos. The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game with proceeds going to support the Gordie Howe Alzheimers Fund.
Prior to the game there will be a pre-game ceremony celebrating Howe’s life and legacy. Hockey Night In Canada announcer Bob Cole will serve as emcee.
“(Howe) could play, he could score, he could be defensive. He was really tough, he was mean, you didn’t really care to play against him that much and yet off the ice he had that little funny grin on his face and he’d say to me, ‘did I ever hurt you?'” recalled Garry Peters, who played against Howe as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Peters is one of the few surviving Saskatchewan-born players from Howe’s era.
The mixture of skill and toughness Howe displayed on the ice combined with the warmth and kindness he showed when the game was over is what makes Mr. Hockey so beloved and it’s why the Blades felt a duty to honour him.
“He left at a young age before the Blades were even around but being who we are, we wanted to be there to thank the family for all that their father did, and so it’s an honour to step up and work with so many partners to create this day,” Hogle said.
One such partner is the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association, which is introducing a new award named after Howe that will be given annually to a player in his or her final year of midget hockey.
“By the time they’re in their third year of midget at 17, they should have established themselves with some off-ice volunteerism and that type of thing, so what they’re doing off the ice to become better human beings is kind of what we want to target,” explained Kelly Boes, SMHA executive director.
The award, in turn, should ensure Howe’s legacy lives on long after the celebration of Thank You Mr. Hockey Day comes to an end.
“He saw superstardom but never forgot about who he was and the values that were true to him,” Hogle said.