TORONTO -- The hockey world is thinking about Gordie Howe as the legend struggles with the effects of a stroke last month.
Sunday afternoon, news spread that Howe, 86, has had a downturn after another minor stroke and experiencing back pain that has caused his blood pressure to fluctuate into dangerous areas, according to Howe's son, Mark.
"The last 10 days have been difficult," Mark Howe told MLive.com. "His health is trending in the opposite direction. Right now it's a lot for Dad to handle."
That news put a bit of a pall on an otherwise entertaining afternoon at the Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic at Air Canada Centre.
Many of the game's great players were on hand for the exhibition game. Some of the older players involved in the game played with Howe at the tail end of his legendary 26-year NHL career. Others grew up watching him play, dreaming of being like him some day. All, however, know the legend of Mr. Hockey and appreciate all the man has done for the sport.
"I have the greatest respect for Gordie and what he meant to the game," said Lanny McDonald, who entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992. "He's a fighter. He'll hang in there and fight as long as he possibly can. We love the fact that he did so much for the game and in the last 10 or 15 years did so much to raise awareness for Alzheimer's. When you think about Gordie playing at 51 that is absolutely incredible and I had the honor of playing against him that year."
Howe, who played more than two decades with the Detroit Red Wings, played his final season in the NHL in the 1979-80 with the Hartford Whalers, who joined the NHL after the merger of the NHL and the World Hockey Association. McDonald was a member of the Colorado Rockies that season.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who led one of the two teams involved in the game, did not join the NHL until a decade after Howe's retirement, but like hockey players the world over, he grew up on the legend of Mr. Hockey.
"Gordie Howe is one of the players, one of those legends that made the game of hockey grow and become as popular as it is today," Sundin said. "Whether you are from Canada, the United States or Sweden, guys like that made all of us want to play hockey and brought all the fans to the rink, so great respect for him."
Joe Sakic, the current general manager of the Colorado Avalanche and the captain of the other team in the game Sunday, spoke for almost every person at Air Canada Centre.
"Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with Gordie and for his recovery," Sakic said. "We all know what Gordie has meant to the game and he is a super man."