Since Gordie Howe’s death in June there have been heartfelt goodbyes, touching tributes and a lifetime of memories shared.
All that and more was on display at SaskTel Centre on Sunday as local hockey fans gathered to simply say ‘thank you’ to the man known as ‘Mr. Hockey.’
Sunday was proclaimed “Thank You Mr. Hockey Day” in Saskatoon and across the province of Saskatchewan. It began with a private ceremony where Howe’s ashes and those of his wife, Colleen, were interred at the base of the Howe statue outside SaskTel Centre.
From there, the Howe family was taken to Diefenbaker Park to see the bridge named in honour of the hockey great. Trips to King George school and Howe’s nearby childhood home followed.
After a private reception over lunch hour, the family reconvened at SaskTel Centre for a special ceremony ahead of the Saskatoon Blades’ home opener.
The Blades, wearing special commemorative jerseys bearing Howe’s image and iconic number nine, watched from their bench as legendary broadcaster Bob Cole took the mic to lead the proceedings.
“It’s a historic day. We are bringing Gordie home,” Cole told the crowd.
The ceremony provided an opportunity for friends and family members to share memories of Howe, and to thank the city that he called home even after leaving for the NHL.
“His roots are here. He never forgot his roots, he never forgot his parents, his brothers and sisters. That was the foundation,” said Howe’s son Mark, who, along with brother Marty, skated alongside Gordie with the Houston Aeros and Hartford Whalers of the Western Hockey Association (WHA).
Former Saskatoon Blade Gerry Pinder, who also claims the Bridge City as his hometown, played against Howe in the NHL and WHA.
“I’m a Saskatoon guy so I know what the city’s like. Gordie never forgot what the city was like and that’s a real credit to him because he was a big, big name down south of the border,” Pinder said.
While Howe is remembered as one of the greatest hockey players of all time, his legacy goes far beyond the rink. It’s one of kindness, generosity and a genuine interest in anyone who had the good fortune to cross his path. That was especially true for other hockey players from Saskatchewan.
“There was just this neat little bond that went on for years and years and years,” explained Bryan Trottier, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and native of Val Marie, Sask. “Whenever I saw Gordie and Colleen it was, ‘Hi Brian, how are you.’ They were family and I just loved that … and I think everybody in hockey probably felt the same way.”
The ceremony itself was befitting of Howe: simple, straightforward and sincere.
“My mom and dad were all about the fans and to me this is really the reason why we get on the ice is to share a moment with you and create some incredible memories,” Howe’s son Murray said, addressing the crowd.
They’re memories that will live on both in Gordie Howe’s hometown and across the hockey world.