Any time former Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom thinks of his time spent with Gordie Howe, he thinks of how every time he was around him, the legend known as "Mr. Hockey" was the most popular and recognizable person in the room.
"He would always draw big crowds when he had a signing or was at an event," Lidstrom said in a phone conversation from Sweden on Friday. "He was always the most popular guy in the room wherever he went. That's quite amazing when you're getting up in age and you're still the most popular guy. That really shows his greatness."
Howe died Friday. He was 88.
Celebrations of Howe's life poured in from all around the hockey world at the news of his death. Lidstrom spoke about Howe's impact on the Red Wings when he played in Detroit from 1991-2012.
"I thought it was great for all the players to have Gordie come in the locker room and say hi to the guys and joke around," said Lidstrom, who like Howe has his number retired by the Red Wings and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"Just his presence alone was great for the players. As older players, we know how much he meant for the League. Just like Wayne Gretzky when he was in his heyday, that was Gordie back in the day. He meant a lot for the NHL, and especially for the Red Wings. He's still a huge name in Detroit. Any time he would be there it would be a standing ovation at 'The Joe' [Joe Louis Arena] when they showed him up on the big screen. He meant a lot to the team and the organization."
Video: 'Mr. Hockey' Gordie Howe passes away at 88
Howe meant a great deal to Lidstrom, too. He remembers the conversations they would have in the home dressing room at Joe Louis Arena.
"When you were talking about the game with him, you could tell he was watching the game like a player would watch the game," Lidstrom said. "He would notice little things here and there that maybe not the regular fan would notice, so it was always fun talking to him."
Lidstrom played with Howe's son, Mark, a former Philadelphia Flyers and Red Wings defenseman, who also is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"There would be the odd time you would sit there just with Gordie and Mark, just talk hockey," Lidstrom said. "Mark would tell me stories about how tough Gordie was when he was playing. Gordie never really bragged about that or talked about that, but Mark did. Mark told us how tough he was, how he protected his sons when he played with them [in Houston and Hartford], and how big he was too. Not many guys were that big. Not many guys had the size that Gordie had back in the day."
Among his fondest memories of Howe, Lidstrom puts a trip to Toronto for the NHL Awards near the very top of the list.
He was flying with his kids and Howe to Toronto in Red Wings owners Marian and Mike Ilitch's private jet. Lidstrom remembers his sons Adam, Kevin, Lucas and Samuel laughing with Howe the entire flight, chatting away, joking around, having a ball.
"He was sitting there talking with the kids about what kind of workouts he did in the offseason when he was a kid, just the regular work he was doing," Lidstrom said. "He was joking with them and you could tell he was having a blast sitting with the kids."
Lidstrom said his sons, particularly the older ones, Kevin and Adam, didn't know the full scope of Howe's legend at the time.
"They thought he was just a fun old man to be around," Lidstrom said. "They didn't realize how big he was back in the day. Of course they saw his jersey up in the rafters at 'The Joe,' but I think when they showed him up on the big screen and people would give him a standing ovation, they realized how popular he was in Detroit. I think they realized how big of a player he was when that happened."
Lidstrom said he remembers his kids telling him they were looking up at Howe's No. 9 hanging in the rafters and counting the years he played for the Red Wings.
Twenty-five. From 1946-71.
"They realized that's a lot of years," Lidstrom said. "I think I really quick explained how big he was back when he was playing, but they saw it."