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Public visitation for Gordie Howe at Joe Louis Arena

Friends, family, fans gather in Detroit to pay respects to Mr. Hockey

by Nick Cotsonika and Dave Stubbs @NHL / NHL.com Columnists

The public visitation for Gordie Howe was held at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit today. Howe, known as Mr. Hockey, died Friday at the age of 88. NHL.com columnists Nick Cotsonika and Dave Stubbs are in Detroit and have shared memories from fans, hockey dignitaries and celebrities who came to pay their respects to Howe.

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Tweet from @Dave_Stubbs: This morning, Joe Louis Arena has become a church for Gordie's 12-hour visitation. My God, it is breathtaking. Congratulations, #RedWings

Tweet from @Dave_Stubbs: Wayne Gretzky, Scotty Bowman & Gordie Howe's sons were among Mr. Hockey's pallbearers this morning pic.twitter.com/4DXeUxp0mC

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The visitation was scheduled to go from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, but Howe's son Mark said the family planned to stay as long as it took to greet every last person. As humble as Howe was, he was a man of the people. He was to be celebrated as he lived. "If you had a chance to run into Gordie and even Mark, they always have time for everyone," said longtime Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. "I know Gordie really appreciated being a Red Wing and loved to be here and around everyone. So I'm not the least bit surprised by that." -- Cotsonika

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Tweet from @Dave_Stubbs: Gordie's visitation now at Joe Louis Arena: Simple, tasteful, elegant, perfect. pic.twitter.com/uX7pLs31jV

Wayne Gretzky spoke with great reverence about Gordie Howe mid-morning, talking to small group of reporters an hour into Tuesday's 12-hour visitation at Joe Louis Arena for the Detroit Red Wings legend.

Leaning against the rink boards, Howe's family and many friends nearby in a receiving line to greet those having come to pay their respects, Gretzky spoke about the huge influence Howe had on him, both on and off the ice, and how the Detroit icon will be remembered as "the greatest." -- Stubbs

Tweet from @cotsonika: Fans signing two posters on wall of the Joe. pic.twitter.com/FBoqy34Iib

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Gretzky, on how Gordie Howe will be remembered: "The best. The greatest player ever. I say this all the time. Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe, pick who you think is better. I happen to be a little biased, I was a forward, but I'll take Gordie. But more importantly, he was the nicest man I ever met. I've been lucky in my lifetime. I got to be part of hosting the Queen, my wife and I got to meet Pope John Paul, I got to light the torch in Vancouver for the Olympic Games. They were all great honors, but when the (Howe) boys asked me to be a pallbearer today, it was pretty special." -- Stubbs

Tweet from @Dave_Stubbs: Wayne Gretzky says he was "embarrassed" to have been on brink of breaking Gordie's all-time points record but Gordie was truly happy for him

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"A lot of times you meet your idol and you go, 'That was OK,' " Gretzky said. "Everybody has bad days, right? But when I met Gordie, he was bigger and better and nicer, everything and more than I imagined him to be. He just had a way about him. Whether he was talking to my father, one of the waitresses at a dinner or the Prime Minister, he had a way of being able to talk to anybody and put everybody at ease." -- Stubbs

Video: Gretzky reminisces about Howe at public visitation

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"Two things separated Gordie from every-day players," Gretzky said about that. "One, Gordie never thought he was bigger or better than anybody else, he always wanted to prove that he was. He never said to anybody, 'I'm the best player, I'm the No. 1 guy.' "And he always had a need to perform each and every game and practice. That's what separated Gordie Howe from the rest and that's why he was Gordie Howe. He had a definite ambition that he was going to be the best player every night and every year. That's how he lived. He never changed." -- Stubbs

Read: Gretzky fondly remembers Howe

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Howe will forever lead Gretzky in at least one category, albeit one that's unofficial: Howe had two Gordie Howe hat tricks in his career - a goal, assist and a fight in a single game. Gretzky laughed when he said he had just one. "I said to my son, 'That's when you know you're a great player, when they name a hat trick after you and you've only had (two),' " Gretzky said. "I asked my son how many he thought Gordie had and he said 60 or 70. I said to Gord one time, 'You fooled everybody.' " -- Stubbs

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Gordie Howe was a Ruthian figure, and Al Kaline, the Detroit Tigers legend, remember when Howe looked like Babe Ruth. Howe took batting practice one day, pulling off his shirt and putting on a Tigers uniform. "Gordie didn't have any shoulders," Kaline said. "His arms went right up to his neck. He had the biggest pair of arms, and all the Tiger players were, 'Man, what a beast he is.' Anyhow, he got out there and started swinging. Struggled a bit, naturally so. Probably never played much baseball or softball in his day. But finally he was able to hit a ball out of the ballpark, and I tell you what, the expression on his face looked like he had just won the Stanley Cup. He was so thrilled that he had finally hit a ball over the fence." -- Cotsonika

Read: Howe remembered for home run power

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Kaline and Howe played a lot of golf together over the years, and just as Kaline invited Howe to the ballpark, Howe invited Kaline to the rink. "I had never skated before in my life," Kaline said. "I borrowed a pair of skates. I was a one-legged pusher, holding onto the boards. Gordie came by, fooling around, gave me one of his famous elbows. I can always say Gordie gave me an elbow and knocked me right into the boards." -- Cotsonika

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"I'm not educated enough to tell you how much I felt pride that I was a friend of Gordie Howe," Kaline said. "What a great human being. … "Everybody knows how great a hockey player he was, maybe the greatest hockey player of all time. But what got me was how great he was off the ice, around people, around kids. He never turned people down. He was always friendly to them, and that to me was why the people in Detroit and the people in hockey everywhere loved Gordie Howe." -- Cotsonika

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"Gordie was the greatest hockey player of all time, and people had pride in Detroit saying, 'Yeah, Gordie Howe, the Red Wings, they're great,'" said Kaline, who began his Hall of Fame baseball career with the Detroit Tigers in 1953 and became close friends with Howe. "Not very many people and not very many towns can say they had the greatest in their city, and Gordie Howe was the greatest." -- Cotsonika

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Red Wings GM Ken Holland: "If you wanted to play the game within the rules, Gordie was very comfortable being the best player in the game within the rules. But if anybody wanted to step outside the rules, he was very comfortable with being the best player in the game outside the rules. So he could play it any way you wanted to play." -- Cotsonika

Read: Howe had gift of making everyone feel equal

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Marty Howe before visitation began: "My dad had a mischievous streak. Sometimes, he'd go into someone's house and autograph something just for the fun of it." -- Stubbs

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Early in his career with the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman went to a charity game with Howe in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They were putting on their gear when Yzerman realized he had forgotten something. "He just said, 'Here, go ahead. You wear my shin pads,' " Yzerman said. "So Gordie gave me his shin pads, and I don't even think he played. I wore Gordie's shin pads, and he just left." Yzerman carried them around all summer, returned them to Howe in the fall and said thank you. "I got to wear his shin pads," Yzerman said. "Not too many guys can say that." -- Cotsonika

Read: Yzerman pays tribute to Howe

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Even though he is now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Yzerman is still known as "The Captain" in Detroit. But there was only one "Mr. Hockey." "Wherever I go, whether it's anywhere in the world, and people talk about the Red Wings, they talk about Gordie Howe," Yzerman said. "They really do. Go anywhere and people from Gordie's generation, how they got into hockey, why they became Red Wing fans, was because of Gordie Howe." -- Cotsonika

Read: Thousands fill Joe Louis Arena to say goodbye to Howe

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The pallbearers and family members met the people who came seemingly forever, shaking hands, offering consolation to those who had come to do the consoling, yet were overcome by grief when they reached the front of the line. -- Stubbs

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For now, Mark and his family and many special guests were buoyed by the love, so much love, that was washing over a father, grandfather, teammate, opponent, friend and legend. Three sons and their fellow pallbearers will never forget that they took the great Gordie Howe on his final walk through a building that, on this day, was not a hockey arena but rather a house of worship. -- Stubbs

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Down the line was Marti Miller, 79, of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., wearing a hockey jersey Howe had autographed and clutching Howe's autobiography, "And … Howe!" She had shaken hands with Howe once at the Olympia, and she had met Howe and his wife Colleen at a book signing. Tucked inside her book was a photograph of the moment and an autograph on the title page. Howe had signed it to "a great lady" with "kindest wishes." "Well," she said, almost blushing, "he didn't know I was a great lady." But that was Gordie, and that was why the line continued to stretch, hundreds, thousands, to 10 a.m., to 11 a.m. … -- Cotsonika

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Élise Béliveau, wife of late Canadiens legend Jean Béliveau, by phone from her home in Montreal: "I loved Gordie, he was my favorite! He was such a gentleman, and he and Colleen were such good friends of Jean and me. We'd have them over to dinner, during a time when opposing players weren't supposed to mingle or be seen together. So we'd get Gordie and Colleen into the house quickly so that no one would be any wiser." -- Stubbs

 

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