DETROIT – It’s not every day professional athletes are impressed by those with more fame.
But like Red Wings forward Mitch Callahan said, Gordie Howe isn’t ordinarily famous.
Mr. Hockey is the monarch of hockey royalty.
Red Wings’ players received an unexpected surprise Wednesday when the iconic star walked into the team’s dressing room an hour before their exhibition game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Accompanied by his sons Mark and Murray, and grandson Nolan, Mr. Hockey spent about 15 minutes visiting with the players.
“I was kind of star-struck,” Callahan said. “I saw him and was like, ‘Hey, that’s Gordie!’ I was just star-struck and it was really cool to see someone of that caliber and kind of meet him.”
The 87-year-old hockey icon continues to make miraculous progress following a series of strokes over the last year, including a significant neurological episode last October that left him temporarily paralyzed. Since then he underwent two stem-cell treatments in Mexico.
For the past three months, Mr. Hockey has been living in Sylvania, Ohio, with his youngest son Murray and daughter-in-law Colleen. Murray is chairman of Toledo Hospital’s department of radiology.
Colleen Howe said her father-in-law has his good days and bad days. He still jokes around, likes to help out with chores around the house, and has regained his appetite. He was also well enough to attend his granddaughter’s wedding last month in northern Michigan.
According to Murray Howe, his father has recovered from the stroke symptoms, but continues to deal with a form a dementia.
Driven on a cart from the parking lot to the hallway leading to the team rooms, Howe made a stop outside the Blackhawks’ room where he visited with Chicago coaches Joel Quenneville and Mike Kitchen.
Quenneville, who played two NHL seasons with Howe’s son, Marty, in Hartford, said he heard Tuesday that Mr. Hockey might be at the game in Detroit.
“I saw Mark last night leaving the (United Center) and he said ‘Gordie might be here tonight,’ ” Quenneville said. “I was pretty excited about getting a chance to say hi.
“I met Gordie many nights and had many dinners with him (in the past). He used to practice with us in the Whale just a few years ago. So, it was good to see him. He’s a great man, great for the sport and obviously great here in Detroit.”
Coach Jeff Blashill was a Wings’ assistant coach four years ago when Mr. Hockey regularly visited The Joe. Seeing Howe tonight only strengthened his admiration for the man.
“I had the opportunity to meet Gordie before. It's awesome. He's Gordie Howe, it's incredible,” Blashill said. “It was awesome to see him. I've worked closely with Mark Howe over the last four years and gotten to know Mark so I've had conversations with Mark about how Gordie's doing. It was great to see him here tonight."
Howe watched the first period of Wednedsay’s game from Mike and Marian Ilitch’s suite at the east end of the arena before driving back to Ohio.
Wednesday marked Mr. Hockey’s first time back to JLA since March 31, 2013 when he attended a Red Wings game to celebrate his 85th birthday.
Before the strokes, Howe regularly dropped by the dressing room to talk and joke with the Wings’ players. Though it’s been a few years since he last visited, Blashill said the players still appreciate the organization’s heritage.
“One thing I think this team understands is the history within this room and certainly Gordie Howe and his presence,” he said. “When you're somebody like that you just have a presence to you."