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4 reasons Saskatchewan loves Gordie Howe

10/29/2014 04:10 EDT | Updated 12/29/2014 05:59 EST
Hockey fans across North America are talking about Gordie Howe this week after the NHL hockey legend suffered a serious stroke on Sunday.

The 86-year-old Howe, known to many as "Mr. Hockey", is resting at his daughter's home in Lubbock, Texas.

One of Saskatchewan's most respected sports journalists, Darrell Davis, said there a plenty of reasons people in Saskatchewan care so much about Howe.

1. Meeting Mr. Hockey

Davis's dad, Lorne Davis, played with Howe in Detroit in the 1950s.

"I love the fact that my dad played with him and against him," Darrell Davis said. "Lorne was a teammate and an opponent and the friendship that they had was probably more memorable for me."

Davis said he has only met Howe "a couple of time here and there," but he remembers meeting the hockey legend at Eaton's when he was about 10 years old.

"My mom dropped me and my younger sister, Liane, at Eaton's one day to go in and get his autograph," Davis said.

"When I got to the front of the line I said, 'Hi Gordie! You're my favourite player do you know who I am?' He looked at me and looked over at my sister, who was this cute little blonde, and (Howe) said, 'No, but I'd like to meet the young girl behind you.'"

"Howe has always been known for being great with kids," Davis said.

"Even through all his dementia, when you see the pictures that he's posing for, he's playing with the kids," Davis said. "He's got an elbow in the ear of one of the young hockey players."

2. Old-time Hockey

The term Gordie Howe hat trick - when a player scores a goal, records an assist and gets in a fight in one game - is named after him.

However, Howe is believed to have only recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick twice in his career.

"When you look back, everybody calls it that but he didn't have many of those," Davis said. "It's just that he was capable of doing everything."

Davis said his dad used to tell him stories about what it was like to go into the boards with Gordie Howe.

"My dad said you could go into the corner with him - and he'd see this all the time when he was playing with him - Gordie would come out with the puck and the guy would be reaching up for his ear to see if it was still attached," Davis said. "It was often bleeding because Gordie's elbow had been in the guy's ear as he took the puck away from this guy."

But Howe wasn't always nasty. Davis said he once talked to Hall of Fame goalie Johnny Bower about playing against Howe. 

"They're Saskatchewan boys, so they're buddies," Davis said. 

Bower, who is from Prince Albert, didn't wear a goalie mask. On one occasion while playing against Howe's Red Wings, Bower said he was lying in the crease after he got knocked over. The puck was sitting in front of his face when he saw Howe coming towards him.

"(Bower) said, 'Gordie fell down onto the puck and covered it up.'" Davis said. "Johnny said, 'What the hell did you do that for?' And Gordie said, 'It's not the playoffs yet.'"

3. Landmark citizen

If you've ever been to the SaskTel Centre in recent years, you've seen Mr. Hockey immortalized outside the stadium. For years, the statue sat on 20th Street, between the Midtown Plaza and Toys R Us parking lot.

Even one of Saskatoon's football stadiums, Gordie Howe Bowl, was named after him. 

"He did a little bit of everything," Davis said. "He was a great golfer too. Everybody talked about how he could have played golf. He probably could have played baseball."

The Bowl was recently renamed Saskatoon Minor Football Field at Gordie Howe Park. There is also a Gordie Howe Campground in the Saskatoon.

While all three honours are in Saskatoon, Davis said he's a provincial icon.

"I don't think any one city can claim him," he said. "All of Saskatchewan loves to claim him just because everybody appreciated what he did. And he was so humble."

4. Mr. Saskatchewan

While it's been decades since Howe lived in Saskatchewan, he has made countless visits and public appearances since his days in the NHL.

Howe's family moved from the former village of Floral, Sask. to Saskatoon when Gordie was a kid. 

In John Chaput's 2005 book, Saskatchewan Sports Legends, Howe wrote the foreword. 

Davis said despite leaving the province more than half a century ago, Howe wrote about never losing his Saskatchewan roots.

"He remembers everything," Davis said. "He remembers going to Waskesiu, playing golf, and how proud he is of all the Saskatchewan hockey players who have followed."

It may surprise some hockey fans to learn Saskatchewan has the most professional hockey players per capita. Davis talked about this in his recently released book, Fire on Ice: Why Saskatchewan Rules the NHL. 

"It's not as if Gordie was the first guy, it's just that he was the best known and the most rounded player of all-time," Davis said.

Davis remembers talking to former NHL player Garry Peters, who was born in Regina, about Howe.

"(Peters) said his first game against Gordie, (Peters) gave (Howe) a body check and it was Gordie's turn to retaliate," Davis said. "(Howe) hit him hard but he said, 'You're lucky kid that you're from Saskatchewan.'"

"When you meet Saskatchewan hockey players, they're all like that," Davis said. "They all remember where they come from ... the love they have for the province. Gordie Howe is the epitome of  that. He is the one who they all idolize the most."

For fans who would like to send cards or letters of support to Gordie, they can do so by sending them to:

Gordie Howe
c/o Texas Trailer Corral
12207 HWY 87
Lubbock, TX 79423

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