The late Gordie Howe's No. 9 is ablaze as the centerpiece of a stunning holiday lights display on the home of one of his sons following in the Yuletide footsteps of a man who adored Christmas.
A glittering eight-foot-tall "9" is among the 25,000 or so lights on the home of Marty and Mary Howe in Glastonbury, Connecticut, a display that Marty joked might well be visible from the orbiting International Space Station.
"Most people have Christmas displays," Howe said on Wednesday. "Only some of us get carried away."
The No. 9 is attached year-round to the house that he and Mary have called home for more than four decades, from when he left the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association in 1977 to sign with the New England Whalers.
Famously, Gordie Howe and two of his sons, Marty and Mark, were teammates with the Aeros for four seasons (1973-77), then skated together again in the NHL in 1979-80 for the Hartford Whalers.
"It's to honor and remember Gordie," Marty said of the glowing No. 9. "I shine it through Christmas and on his birthday. Any time I'm thinking about him, I can plug it in.
"If I turned it on every time there was a milestone date for Gordie, I'd burn out the bulbs," he said. "But I have two new strings of lights, in case. I had four but I needed two this year for Frosty's hat. I'm always robbing some for something else."
Frosty would be the 15-foot, 7-inch snowman that Howe built for an addition to the display this season, along with a white star built to honor Texas, the state from which Mary comes and where he won Avco Cup championships with the Aeros in 1974 and 1975.
There are five 9-foot trees among this year's display, another snowman, a few deer and a U.S. flag, built some years ago to salute Howe's nephew, Capt. Duncan James, who flew helicopters during a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Planning of this year's display goes back months, Howe said.
"That's what happens when you don't sleep well - you think about all this stuff then in the morning you say, 'I think I can do that,' " he said.
Gordie Howe loved Christmas, fashioning elaborate light displays on his house, then stringing lights over the rink he built on the front lawn. Mr. Hockey holds an NHL record that will never be broken, having scored the most points of anyone (24, 12 goals, 12 assists) in Christmas Day games; he played 21 in all. The League held its last Dec. 25 games in 1971.
Marty jokes that he's not yet seen his latest electricity bill, but given that every light but a few strings are energy-efficient LEDs, the spike isn't horrifying.
Howe is planning to add Santa and a sleigh next year.
"If the weather is decent, I'll take down some of this year's display after New Year's," he said. "But if it's lousy, they can stay until it warms up. I'm not crazy enough to be going up an extension ladder if it's bad."