DETROIT -- Gordie Howe turns 88 on Thursday, and the family of the Detroit Red Wings legend helped "Mr. Hockey" celebrate early by taking him to the Red Wings' game against the Buffalo Sabres at Joe Louis Arena on Monday.
Howe visited the Red Wings dressing room prior to the game to greet players and the coaching staff.
"It was really cool," said 19-year-old rookie forward Dylan Larkin, who scored a goal in the Red Wings' 3-2 win. "Obviously I never got to see him play but I've seen pictures and I see all his stats and some clips of him playing. It's really cool to see what he's done for Detroit and for the Red Wings."
Howe's presence was announced by the public address announcer midway through the first period and was presented with a birthday cake while the home crowd cheered and sang "Happy Birthday."
Video: BUF@DET: Howe receives warm birthday welcome
Gordie Howe's son, Mark Howe, stood with him as he was shown on the jumbotron during the salute. Mark Howe is himself a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and is Detroit's director of pro scouting.
"Last night, I made the mistake of telling him, 'You want to go to the hockey game tomorrow night.' He was so excited he hardly slept," Mark Howe told Fox Sports Monday. "So he did well to be here."
"We're pretty lucky around here," coach Jeff Blashill told the Red Wings website. "Ted Lindsay was in here last week. To have Gordie Howe come in here means a ton. This organization has unreal history and he's as big a piece of that as anybody. So to have him here tonight will be a great thing. I think it's great for the Howe family that he's able to come here and he's really doing a good job, health-wise."
Howe has made a remarkable recovery after a stroke in 2014 had family members preparing his eulogy. A series of stem cell treatments in Mexico, the last one in June 2015, has given Howe back much of his quality of life; he enjoys taking walks and spending time with family among other activities.
"At this point, he is a man of few words," his son, Murray Howe, told the Detroit Free Press. "He understands what everyone is saying, but he talks in short sentences and usually very quietly. It can be hard to understand him. But he is good with body language and hand signals.
"He is very funny, and if you listen closely, what he says is usually something extremely funny."
Video: BUF@DET: Howe visits Red Wings on his 88th birthday
Murray, who drove Gordie to the game from their home near Toledo, Ohio, spoke about how his father is still revered in the community and told a story of a recent trip to the local hockey rink where he met a young boy who was named after him.
"You could see it in the little boy's eyes. In his eyes, my dad looked like Paul Bunyan," Murray said. "It was obvious they had told him all about him. The boy couldn't believe he was actually meeting him."
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, who was behind the bench for some memorable games at Joe Louis Arena during his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins, said it would be special having Howe in the arena Monday.
"I've been in this building a large number of times and I can count every time I know that Gordie Howe was in the building," Bylsma told the Red Wings website. "I know he's going to be here tonight, it's his 88th birthday, I think on Thursday, and we've had five or six guys talk about it in our dressing room that Gordie Howe's going to be here tonight, hoping to see him, hoping to get a picture."
The Red Wings are in a battle to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 25th consecutive season.
They remain tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in overtime Monday and hold the tie-breaker since they have a game in hand. The Red Wings, fourth in the Atlantic Division, moved to within a point of the third-place Boston Bruins.
Video: BUF@DET: Mark Howe on father's health, birthday