Detroit Red Wings' Gordie Howe is pictured in action against the Toronto Maple Leafs' Allan Stanley in this undated handout photo. Howe, the man forever known as "Mr. Hockey," died June 10 at age 88. CNS photo/Detroit Red Wings handout via Reuters

Gordie Howe an animal on the ice, a saint off it

  • June 15, 2016

An amazing hockey player he may have been, but Gordie Howe’s greatest legacy will be that he was an even better human being, one who touched the lives of all of us and our families.

Fr. J.J. Mech, a longtime family friend and rector of Detroit’s Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, celebrated the final farewell to Mr. Howe before a packed cathedral today. A who’s who of the hockey world was on hand to pay tribute to the man known simply as Mr. Hockey, among them Wayne Gretzky, who Mr. Howe first befriended as a 10-year-old scoring phenom from Brantford, Ont., to former teammates such as Ted Lindsay, as well as opponents like former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower, and the Illitch family, owners of the Detroit Red Wings for whom Mr. Howe carved out his legacy as the greatest player of his time, and to many, the greatest of all time. 

Hundreds more gathered outside the cathedral, thousands took in the funeral livestreamed at the city’s Joe Louis Arena and a national television audience watched as Canada’s sports and 24-hour news networks interrupted regular programming to broadcast the funeral of the Saskatchewan-born Mr. Howe.

Mr. Howe passed away June 10 at the age of 88 after a lengthy sickness following a stroke in 2014.

Mech listed the numerous accomplishments of Mr. Howe as he dominated the National Hockey League over a career that saw him play in five different decades, the final years with his two sons — Marty and Mark — who would become teammates of their father in the World Hockey Association before one final hurrah together on the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers after the WHA merged with the NHL.

But what made Mr. Howe so special was the man off the ice, said Mech, the one who made everyone feel welcome.

“He was the most devoted family man, a true gentleman,” said Mech in his homily. “He was an animal on the ice but a saint off it.”

A man described as a kid himself, Mr. Howe was at his best around children, said Mech. He said that when Mr. Howe visited hospitals to see terminally ill children, he was always able to bring laughter to the children and their families.

“He changed people’s lives,” he said.

Before the service, Dr. Murray Howe, Mr. Howe’s youngest son, related stories of the man he called “my only hero.” 

There are “endless superlatives to describe my dad,” he said — humble, tough, eternally positive and selfless who always had “a smile on his face and a song on his lips.”

“He always made everyone feel as if they were the most important person on the planet,” said Dr. Howe.

His father loved God, and he always credited Him for his gifts, he said, adding that Mr. Howe embodied what God teaches us.

“His life has been the epitome of faithful service,” Dr. Howe said.

“He believed in standing up for what was right.”

Mech said Mr. Howe kidded with Scripture — “It’s better to give than receive,” Mr. Howe said, “especially on the ice” — but lived out its lessons. His family told Mech about how there was never a neighbour’s lawn that needed to be raked, a driveway that needed to be shovelled that he wouldn’t help out with. 

“You couldn’t stop him.”

Mech said the lessons we can learn from Mr. Howe are how to be gracious and share our gifts.

“Let’s make Mr. Hockey proud, let’s make our Lord prouder,” said Mech.

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