By Kyle Harland
There was a lot of skill at Saturday night's hockey game between the Canucks and Red Wings. Roberto Luongo
made 32 saves, Brendan Morrison scored a short-handed goal, and Pavel Datsyuk extended his point streak to 10 games.
But the best hockey player in the building that night was without a doubt a man casually watching the game from a private suite high above the ice surface - Gordie Howe.
When I was invited to meet Mr. Hockey in order to write this article, I was caught completely off guard. I have always envisioned being a hockey writer and thought I might interview players and coaches, but never once did it cross my mind that I could have the chance to talk to the sport's most prolific player.
Before I met Howe, all I could think about were his accomplishments in hockey. His mind boggling statistics kept running through my mind - four Stanley cups, six scoring titles, six MVP honors, 23 all-star appearances, third place overall in NHL scoring - the list goes on. How he could play at such a high level until he was 52 impresses me as well. I'll be lucky if I can walk without a cane at that age.
The time to meet him soon arrived, and as I was escorted to Howe's suite, I felt as nervous as I did on my very first date in junior high school.
As much as I tried to prepare for it, I was overwhelmed when I first saw him. It was strange to think that countless records, some of hockey's defining moments, and an illustrious legend were neatly bundled into this 78-year-old man.
Even professional business-types were disarmed by Howe's significance, bashfully asking for pictures and signatures.
I was scared to be in the same room as him. The small Hockey Hall of Fame crest embroidered on his suit jacket was yet another reminder that I was out of place in this elite company.
It took me a good five minutes before I gathered enough courage to start a conversation. I didn't feel worthy of talking to him. I was keenly aware of my irrelevance in comparison to Howe, and I was afraid he wouldn't want to waste his time with a lowly reporter.
But when I finally did speak to him, I realized there was nothing to fear. Despite his mountainous list of accomplishments, Howe was incredibly humble. His conversational demeanor was such that it would be easy to mistake him for a regular guy - as long as he wasn't talking about hockey, that is.
In order to preserve the moment, I asked a man who had come with Howe if he could take our picture. That's when I learned that Howe hasn't lost his love of physical play.
As I posed for the photo, he hit me square in the jaw with one of his famous elbows just as the camera flashed. The photographer, who had clearly seen Howe's goofy antics before, said, "Okay, how about a serious one, Gordie." Howe pretended to agree, and then got his elbow up a second time as the next picture was taken.
Sure, he was just joking. But it was enough for me to know that even though he's more than 50 years my senior, if we were to suit up and hit the ice he could knock me flat on my back in a second.
After finding out that he's still got it at 78, I tried to find out his secret to his longevity and great hockey sense. His answer was simple. "You've got to love the game," he said. A few short minutes of hearing him reminisce about his career gave me no doubt that he had a love for the game that is not likely rivaled by many other players.
He talked about finding his way in the big leagues after coming from a small town, playing with Wayne Gretzky, and hitting a player so that he spun like a top. Every story he told was accompanied by a chuckle of glee and a sparkle in his eye.
Howe certainly has lots of fans and has been praised endlessly for his efforts in hockey. But after talking to him on Saturday, I didn't think he could be thanked enough for what he has done for the sport.
I should have knows the fans at GM Place wouldn't disappoint me. When Howe was shown on the big screen at Saturday night's game at, they gave him a standing ovation, chanting his name over and over. It was clear they appreciated the passion with which he had played the game. If anyone can rival Howe's love of the game, it must the millions of hockey fans that he helped inspire.
Since seeing Howe's love for hockey first hand, I can certainly say that I've never been more proud to be one of those fans.