Most thought Gordie Howe wouldn’t make it to the celebration to honor him in his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which was held Feb. 6.
The 86-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer and Red Wings legend nicknamed “Mr. Hockey” was suffering from dementia, was bedridden and appeared to be in grave danger after a series of strokes.
As recently as early December, his family had resigned themselves to the fact that he was in his last days as he stayed at his daughter’s house in Lubbock, Texas.
But Howe has made an extraordinary recovery after undergoing an experimental stem cell treatment in Mexico on Dec. 8, by Stemedica Cell Technologies. The procedure isn’t yet approved in the United States.
He was immediately able to walk and even play floor hockey with one of his grandsons. There is footage of Howe making a fake on the youngster and putting a shot between his grandson’s legs.
So, Howe – who has also gained 21 pounds – was on hand in Saskatoon this past weekend when there was a dinner – The 55th annual Saskatoon Kinsmen Celebrity Sports Dinner – and a press conference to celebrate the fact that a local hockey arena was being re-named in Howe’s honor, among other honors.
Also on hand were former NHL greats Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Brett and and Dennis Hull, along with Howe’s sons who are former NHL players and his former teammates, Mark – who is the Red Wings director of pro scouting – and Marty.
Howe’s other son, Dr. Murray Howe, was also in attendance along with former NHL players Lanny McDonald, Marty McSorley and Dave “Tiger” Williams. Another ex-NHL enforcer, Kelly Chase, was the emcee for Friday night’s festivities.
Howe played 26 seasons in the NHL – from 1946-47-to 1970-71 with the Red Wings and the 1979-80 season to with the Hartford Whalers, in which he incredibly played at 51 and 52 years old – and six more seasons (1973-74 to 1978-79)in the World Hockey Association with the Houston Aeros and New England Whalers.
Howe holds the record for most NHL seasons and games (1,767) and is second only to Gretzky in goals (801) and points (1,850). He holds Red Wing career records for games (1,687), goals (786) and points (1,809). He won four Stanley Cups with Detroit, six Hart Trophies as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player and four Art Ross Trophies as the league’s scoring champion.
“He is, he was, he will always be the greatest of all time,” Gretzky said.
Gretzky first met Howe in 1970, when he was “8 or 9”,around two years before the famous photo of the pair in 1972 was taken, which shows Howe with his stick around the then 11-year-old Gretzky’s neck.
“I was telling Mark [Howe] and Marty [Howe] this, the first time I actually met Gordie was two years before that picture was taken,” Gretzky told espn.com. “I had gone down to the Brantford Civic Centre, Mark and Marty were playing Junior A for the Detroit Junior Wings against the Brantford Majors. And Gordie was at the game. I stood in the corner where he sat and just stared at Gordie the whole time, for two hours. I was too scared to get his autograph but I shook his hand. That was the first time I met Gordie.”
Gordie Howe and Gretzky have always had a close relationship over the years.
The festivities came with the Howe family mourning the death of Vic Howe, Gordie’s brother, who recently died at the age of 85.
Vic Howe also played in the NHL, with the New York Rangers, in the early 1950s.