DETROIT -- Gordie Howe is part of every hockey night in Detroit. The fans walk through the Gordie Howe Entrance into Joe Louis Arena, past the Gordie Howe statue in the concourse and past the Gordie Howe pictures on the walls. They sit beneath his No. 9 hanging in the rafters.
But since Mr. Hockey died June 10 at age 88, his No. 9 has been painted behind each net at the Joe, and the Detroit Red Wings have worn it on a patch on their sweaters.
And on Friday, Gordie Howe Night, the first 5,000 fans who came to see the Red Wings play the Winnipeg Jets received a replica of the statue. The video screens showed photos, highlights and statistics celebrating Howe's 25 seasons with Detroit, from his 786 goals to his four Stanley Cup championships to his six Hart Trophy wins as NHL most valuable player.
When the children of Gordie and the late Colleen Howe walked onto a red carpet for the ceremonial faceoff -- Cathy, Mark, Marty and Murray -- the fans cheered, then hushed.
"Long live Gordie!" someone yelled from the stands.
Gordie Howe is gone. But not only will he not be forgotten, especially here, where he spent the prime of his career, the work he and Colleen did to grow the game and enrich the lives of others will enter a new era.
"It's kind of the beginning of the process for the Howe children to continue the legacy of not only Gordon Howe but Colleen Howe," Mark said.
Video: Mark Howe | Gordie Howe Night | Media Availability
The Howe family is discussing ways to make the Howe Foundation bigger and better than ever, focusing on children in hockey and women in sports business. Remember: Gordie grew up in Saskatoon during the Great Depression. He received his first pair of skates when his mother gave money to a neighbor in need in exchange for a sack of goods, and the skates just happened to be inside. Colleen blazed a trail as not only Gordie's wife but his business manager.
The Howe family also is discussing how to share its history with the Hockey Hall of Fame; Little Caesars Arena, the new home of the Red Wings opening next season; and other places in Michigan and Canada. Remember: Gordie Howe was an ambassador, sharing himself with fans during his career and long afterward. There's still a lot to share.
"There's probably 10,000 artifacts," said Brad Robins of Legacy Global Sports, who has been working with the family. "Where can we talk about the virtues and what this family stood for and really pass it on to future generations?"
Perhaps a Gordie Howe youth hockey tournament?
"There's a lot of great ideas," Mark said. "There's been a lot of discussions with a lot of different people. They're trying to help us grow. I know initially we thought of maybe selling Mom and Dad's memorabilia, but they've come up with some different ideas so hopefully we don't have to sell it and we can use it in other ways and keep it for a longer period of time but also raise money. It was always Mom and Dad's goal to help out children in the game of hockey, young children, so we're trying to put some plans in order.
"It takes a while. We're trying to get it right, though."
The connection between Gordie and the community remains incredible, and so does the Howe family's grace. The Red Wings held Howe's visitation on June 14 at Joe Louis Arena, open to the public. Thousands of fans attended, and the Howe family received them all, staying for more than 12 hours. Mark said one came all the way from Paris. He flew in, put on his No. 9 sweater, paid his respects and flew home.
"So it's far-reaching," Mark said.
The Howe children had a hard summer, adjusting to life without Dad. They laid some of their mom's and dad's ashes at the base of his statue at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Sept. 25 and some at Waskesiu Lake, about 2 1/2 hours north. That's where Gordie used to spend his summers, working as a greenskeeper, playing golf and fishing with buddy Johnny Bower. That was where he later took Colleen.
"We knew that it was just a really special place for him and my mom when they first got married," Murray said.
Wherever the Howe children have gone, they have heard the same stories they always have about their parents: How a fan took a picture with Gordie, with Gordie playfully throwing up a mock elbow at the last second; how someone had a meal bill paid secretly, Colleen the culprit.
"Dad just had a wonderful rapport with people," Mark said. "He was a far better person than he was a hockey player, and I can tell that because everybody who's met him, they never talk about him as a hockey player. They always talk about how he was as a person and how he treated them. And my mom, she was one of the most giving people I've ever met in my life. She did it in a very quiet way. I didn't even know about a bunch of it after she passed."
Murray said, "Not a day goes by that I don't meet somebody new that tells me a story or just shares how my father impacted them. It never ceases to amaze me. He impacted so many people and on such a grand scale. I've never known a person who has impacted so many people in that way. It's just humbling, absolutely humbling. I knew he was beloved, but really just the outpouring, the continuing outpouring of love for this man, it's mind blowing for me."
Marty said sometimes when it's quiet and he's in bed trying to sleep, he thinks of his father. He misses him terribly. But he isn't upset. How could he be upset?
"Everything you think about is good," Marty said. "He had a better life than anybody I've ever known. You can't get upset about it. Everybody has their time, and his battery ran out. He went away peaceful. It's almost more of a celebration of his life throughout the years. Everything you think of, they're all good memories. There are no bad ones. You can take that home with you every night, you know?"