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Howe packs in the fans at NHL Fan Fair

by Dave Lozo
OTTAWA -- Who is the one player with the ability to match the biggest fan event during All-Star Weekend?

Gordie Howe is about as big as it gets.

Mr. Hockey was in attendance Friday afternoon at the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fair at the Ottawa Convention Centre to sign autographs in conjunction with trading-card company Panini America. The one-hour session drew such a crowd that the lines had to be closed before Howe could take his spot on the podium.


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The 83-year-old attracted fans of all ages, including 18-year-old Brad Galbraith, who posed for a couple of pictures with Howe delivering a playoff elbow right below Galbraith's chin.

"It was pretty awesome. It was my first time," the Ottawa resident said. "He said he didn't like my hat because I wasn't wearing it properly."

Was Howe giving him the business because it was a Pittsburgh Penguins hat? Or because he was wearing it slightly askew?

"I think a little bit of both," he said.

Kevin Lachance, 56, had a far clearer picture of what it was like to watch Howe dominate as a member of the Detroit Red Wings in the 1950s and 1960s. Lachance grew up a fan of the Red Wings and followed them as his team until the Senators returned to the NHL in 1992.

The years did nothing to damage his love of Howe or his knowledge of how intimidating the Hall of Famer could be.

"I'm a big Gordie Howe fan," Lachance said. "He's been my hero since the 1960s. Growing up, he was my guy. It was my first time meeting him. I'm 56 years old, and I'm as nervous as hell. But it was nice to finally meet him."

Howe was the big attraction on a Friday that featured appearances by rookie All-Stars Colin Greening of the Senators, Carl Hagelin of the Rangers, Raphael Diaz of the Canadiens and Ryan Johansen of the Blue Jackets. Daniel Alfredsson of the Sens and Marian Hossa of the Blackhawks held signings of their own. A third-floor room, meanwhile, had interactive games and tests of hockey skills for fans.

But it was Howe who the fans really wanted to see. Even Kevin's 7-year-old grandson Ethan -- who clearly never has seen Howe play -- had a pretty solid working knowledge of the player.

"I haven't really learned a lot about him yet," Ethan said, before sounding like a hockey encyclopedia. "Except the fact that he was a real good player back in the '50s and '60s. He scored 50 goals and was an amazing shooter."

"And he was tough," his grandfather chimed in.

"Yeah, no kidding," the grandson, who is more knowledgeable about Howe than he realized, responded. "Meeting him for the first time was a great thing to do. I'm looking forward to meeting him again."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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