Gordie Howe has a long way to go to recover from a stroke he suffered over the weekend, his son said Wednesday amid an outpouring of support from the hockey community.
"Mr. Hockey" has shown some signs of improvement from what son Mark called a "pretty significant stroke" and is resting at his daughter Cathy's home in Lubbock, Texas.
"It's a difficult time for Dad," Mark Howe said in a phone interview from Lubbock. "It definitely impacted his life, so we're dealing with this, I think, as all families do and just trying to be there. The best thing we can do is just be here and be supportive and try to keep him in good spirits."
Sons Mark, Marty and Murray travelled from their respective homes in New Jersey, Connecticut and Ohio on Tuesday to be with their father, who has been in declining health for the past year. Gordie Howe is 86 and also suffers from a form of dementia.
In a statement thanking family, friends and fans for their support, the Howe family said that "Dad's spirits are good and his competitive attitude remains strong."
Concerns for Howe and hopes for his recovery have poured in from across the hockey world and beyond since news of his stroke emerged Tuesday afternoon. Mark Howe, who has been a scout for the Detroit Red Wings for the past 20 years, estimated he had 375 text messages, a volume surpassed only by the time he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Mark Howe said other family members also received messages from friends about Gordie's health.
"Obviously Dad, he's touched so many people in his life in such a positive way," he said. "That's reflected in so many of the well-wishes and prayers that we've received."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper posted a message of encouragement on Twitter, and coaches Mike Babcock and Dallas Eakins talked about Howe's health Wednesday.
"If there's anybody that can recover from that, it's that tough old bird," Eakins, who coaches the Oilers, told reporters in Edmonton. "He's a tough man and quite a treasure to our game. Our thoughts and prayers are with him."
Former Hartford Whalers owner Howard Baldwin, who signed Gordie to play with sons Mark and Marty in the WHA and NHL and also produced Howe's movie, "Mr. Hockey," has been in touch with the family and voiced his support, as well.
"He's somebody that I dearly treasure," Baldwin said in a phone interview. "He's a national treasure and I hope and pray that he can pull through this, which I think he will and have a quality of life that you would want somebody to have."
Frank Mahovlich, who played with Howe on the Red Wings for parts of four seasons, learned of his former teammate's stroke Wednesday morning. Days after reading about the death of former NHLer Milan Marcetta, the 76-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs great said he's scared to pick up the newspaper much anymore.
"It's that time in my life, I guess, that a lot of my friends are feeling the pain," Mahovlich said in a phone interview.
Those four seasons with Mahovlich were the final four in the NHL for Howe, at least until one more go-around with sons Mark and Marty in Hartford in 1979-80. Howe even skated one shift for the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League in 1997 at the age of 69, becoming the first player to take the ice in a professional game over six separate decades.
"You never knew when the end was," Mahovlich said. "He kept going on and on and on. He was an amazing hockey player, lovely to watch. He played all those years and we packed every house that we came to. People just loved to watch him play."
Howe played 26 NHL seasons and set league marks with 801 goals and 1,850 points — mostly with the Red Wings — that held up until Wayne Gretzky surpassed him in the record books.
In addition to the statement, the Howe family provided an address for anyone wishing to send cards or letters of support: Gordie Howe, c/o Texas Trailer Corral, 12207 HWY 87, Lubbock, TX 79423.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, who first met Howe during a brief call-up to the Whalers and got to know him more in management, was not at all surprised by outpouring.
"Especially when you think about how deeply rooted hockey is in Canada, people that aren't even associated with the National Hockey League understand how important Gordie is to our country," Holland said in a phone interview. "He's always been associated with our game and he's Gordie Howe, 'Mr. Hockey.'"
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement Tuesday night passing along the league's best wishes.
"The entire National Hockey League family sends prayers for strength and healing to our revered Gordie Howe," Bettman said. "We all are thinking of Gordie and his loved ones as we wish him a speedy and full recovery."
Mark Howe said family members have been spending time with Gordie and showing him family photos and videos. The plan is for him to remain in Texas, where Cathy or someone else from the family can be with him at all times.
Howe said his father would require "a lot of work in order to be able to recover." For now, the family is just enjoying spending time with him.
"It's a beautiful, sunny day," he said. "If dad hadn't been through this, he'd probably be outside going for a little walk or something."
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