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Detroit fans remember Howe

'Mr. Hockey' touched numerous lives during his hockey career and in retirement

by Paul Harris / Correspondent

DETROIT -- Gordie Howe touched numerous lives during his record-setting playing career and in the 35-plus years after he retired.

Howe died Friday at age 88.

Fans in downtown Detroit talked about what the man known as "Mr. Hockey" meant to them.

Howe was a mentor to youth hockey coach Bill Ciraulo, who played minor pro hockey in the 1970s. He had known Howe since playing with Mark and Marty Howe in junior hockey in Detroit in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"A sad day in hockey, very influential in my life," Ciraulo said. "In those junior days, he took me under his wing. He kept me straight because I grew up on the wrong side of the street … He kept me out of trouble."

Tom Woolsey, 70, who owns a restaurant about two miles from Joe Louis Arena, grew up idolizing Howe.

"I grew up watching him. I've got a scrapbook full of stuff on him," Woolsey said. " … He and [Detroit Tigers star] Al Kaline were my idols … Just a great man. I saw him tie Rocket Richard's goal record with 544 and break it with 545. I was at both games [at Olympia Stadium]. He was a heck of a man."

Even those who aren't avid hockey fans have long known of Howe and what he meant to Detroit.

"He was iconic to Detroit hockey," said Chuck Leonard, a 53-year-old retired policeman. "Even me not being a hockey fan, I knew who he was when I was a kid. He had more impact after he finished playing, in my opinion, that he did when was playing because he brought so many people into the game. He was a Detroit sports legend, and he will be remembered as such."

Howe also made an impact on younger fans who weren't yet born when he retired in 1980,

"He is a major Detroit icon. A major Red Wing icon," said Sara Miller, 34. " … With a lot of people, when it comes to the Red Wings, they symbolize them with Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman as true Detroit icons.

"I know that he was a very down-home person, very personable. He wasn't star-struck … When you're in the public eye, some people care about the way that they are portrayed and he was one of them."

Bob Simmons, 68, was first exposed to hockey when his family moved to Milwaukee as an 8-year-old and came to Detroit in 1960, when he was 12.

"Probably the best all-around hockey player that I have ever seen," Simmons said. "That includes Orr, Gretzky, all of them. He could do everything. He could play defense, score and he was tough."

He said his most lasting memory of Howe came in 1966-67, Derek Sanderson's rookie season with the Boston Bruins. When the Bruins came into Detroit, Sanderson announced that he would "take care of Mr. Hockey," who turned 39 that season.

"I remember the two of them went into the corner for the puck and Howe came out with the puck and Sanderson was lying on the ice. They slowed it down [on a replay], and you could see Howe working Sanderson over with his elbows."

Simmons also had a second-hand encounter with Howe in the late '80s that was a great example of how down to earth Howe was.

"I went to the airport to pick up my father from a trip to Madison, Wis., and in those days you could still walk out on the tarmac from the gate," Simmons said. "So I see my father and this taller guy was walking behind him and I recognized that it was Howe. Of course, everybody mobbed Howe. I asked my father, 'Do you know who that is?' he said 'No., Who is it?' I said 'That's Gordie Howe, probably the greatest hockey player ever.' He said, 'Really? All we talked about was our children.'"

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