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NHL community reacts to Howe's death

Commissioner, former teammates, players share thoughts, stories on NHL Network

by Cutler Klein @CutlerKlein / Staff Writer

Members of the hockey community who knew Gordie Howe shared their stories and memories of "Mr. Hockey" on NHL Network on Friday after his death at the age of 88.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman followed up his statement on Howe earlier in the day with an appearance on the network, and spoke to Howe's effect on hockey and the growth of the sport.

"The simplest way to characterize his impact on the game is his nickname: 'Mr. Hockey,'" Bettman said. "That says it all. He took the game to more places and more people in his era than was even imaginable. He was a force to be reckoned with, and not just physically, on behalf of the game.

"He touched so many people in so many ways. He was the consummate ambassador, not only for hockey, but for professional sports. He always had time for a photograph or an autograph. He especially enjoyed interacting with children. He was a very special person and we are so fortunate to have him in our lives."

Video: Gary Bettman on his fond memories of Gordie Howe

When asked if the NHL would put together a permanent tribute, such as a League-wide retirement of Howe's No. 9, Bettman said the League would pay tribute to Howe's legacy in some lasting way "at the appropriate time."

Gordie Roberts, Howe's teammate with the Hartford Whalers and the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers, spoke of being on the road with Howe, after whom he was named.

"I think the respect was there, and he also wanted to be treated as one of the guys in a number of different ways," Roberts said. "I had a huge age difference with him, but we had some characters back in the WHA that would kid around with him. You just saw a difference in him. Playing with him, traveling with him and being in the dressing room with him, he loved messing around playing hockey. He was a normal guy in a lot of ways."

Roberts told the story of how he came to be named after "Mr. Hockey."

"I had older brothers that were stick boys for the Red Wings in the '50s, the heyday of Detroit hockey," he said. "My mother wanted to name me Clifford, but my brothers won out and I have felt very honored throughout the years to be named after Gordie Howe."

John Davidson, Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations and a former NHL player, said Howe commanded respect and would keep younger players in check when he was out on the ice.

"One of the things he did that I remember is when he was skating around playing and young players would get aggressive, he'd skate by and say, 'Hey, settle down, or I'll have to put you over my knee,' and he would," Davidson said.

Davidson also emphasized how much of an impact Howe had on hockey during and after his illustrious career.

"The man was a specimen," he said. "He was a great player, made his team better, made teammates better and carried the game for a long period of time."

Video: Wayne Gretzky on the legacy of Gordie Howe

Davidson said he purchased an autographed Howe Red Wings jersey in recent weeks at a Calder Cup playoff game between Lake Erie, Columbus' American Hockey League affiliate, and Detroit's affiliate, Grand Rapids. The jersey was scheduled to be delivered to his house Friday.

Billy Jaffe, who helped anchor NHL Network's coverage Friday, said of Howe, "He put so many elements of the game together. As a sports society, we like to talk about one generation to the next. I firmly believe that he can transcend any generation because of his size and brute natural strength. He could handle the rigors of any era of the NHL. He was so good and so powerful."

When he retired in 1980, Howe held the NHL career records for goals (801), assists (1,049) and points (1,850). He still holds the records for most seasons played (26) and games played (1,767).

Howe's scoring records ice were all broken by fellow Hall of Fame member Wayne Gretzky. The two became very close as Gretzky began to assume his place at the top of the record books.

However, Gretzky, nicknamed "The Great One," conceded that title Friday during his appearance on NHL Network.

"I can't say enough about [him]," Gretzky said. "He was the greatest player that ever played."

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