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Happy Birthday Mr. Hockey

March 28, 2016

 

Happy Birthday Mr. Hockey;

Grayling’s adopted son is 88

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

My favorite of all sporting events takes place at 9 p.m. on the last Saturday of July, but my fondest memory of the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon has nothing to do heart-racing starts or inspiring finishes.

 

Four years ago, I was standing in line at the Dairy Queen, our traditional stop before heading home to follow the race on the radio. I had a beautiful girl on each arm. Roxie, our Great Pyrenees, had just spent the day at the spa, and her thick fluffy coat was sparkling. She looked fabulous. My wife, Jo Ann, didn’t look bad, either.

 

We were preoccupied talking with our close friends, the veterinarians Nancy Martindale and Troy Fairbanks, when I looked over my shoulder and saw this big guy with a shock of white hair that matched perfectly with the dog’s. He was on his knees, caressing Roxie with both hands and whispering softly into her ear like a 7-year-old boy.

 

Gordie Howe was petting my dog.

 

Now just about anybody who has spent much time in this part of the state has Gordie story. The Howe family spent a lot of time in this part of the state. Gordie and the beautiful Colleen, who died in 2009, owned a home on Bear Lake, just down the road toward Kalkaska. They raised their kids up here in the summer times.

 

While Gordie was petting the dog, then posing for pictures and signing a few autographs with that perfect penmanship Colleen taught him, their physician son, Murray, was in line getting the ice cream. We talked for several minutes, shook hands and went our separate ways.

I’d met Gordie several years earlier in my time covering the Red Wings for the Detroit Free Press, and spent several years working closely with his Hall of Fame son, Mark, as a player and later as a pro scout with the Wings.

 

One of the thrills of my career came when I was sitting in the press box at the Joe and felt a sharp nudge in the ribs that nearly knocked me off my stool. As I looked over my shoulder to see where it came from, I saw Gordie walking by, smiling.

It felt like some sort of rite of passage, and I could only imagine how an opponent felt when he used that elbow with ill-intentions.

 

In late October 2014, Howe suffered a massive stroke. Doctors told his family to prepare for what seemed inevitable. Six weeks later, he could barely speak, needed help feeding himself and could stand, with strong assistance on either side, for only 30 seconds or so before he was

exhausted. His sons, Murray and Marty, took Gordie to Mexico for some experimental stem-cell therapy.

 

What followed was something Murray referred to as a Christmas miracle. Gordie has been back once more to Mexico for a second treatment. Now he’s walking, talking, stick-handling a cloth puck around Murray’s house in Toledo. He’s even made a few public appearances, including attending some Wings games.

 

Eighteen months ago, while his family was preparing his funeral, those of us in the news business were writing an obituary that has yet to be published.

 

Gordie Howe turns 88 today. With any luck, we’ll see him at the start of another race in July.

On the way home from the marathon that night a few years ago, I couldn't help but think we had just crossed paths with the greatest athlete Detroit has ever seen. My dog, on the other hand, only knew she had just encountered an extraordinarily kind man.

In fact, Gordie Howe is both.

Happy birthday, Gordie. And thanks for the memories.

 

 

SPITTIN’ CHICKLETS:

After the Red Wings’ worst weekend of the season that included a humiliating 7-2 loss Saturday to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, the mathematicians now put Detroit’s chances of making the Stanley Cup playoffs at less than 50-50.

 

The Wings aren’t getting much help, either. Boston and the New York Islanders also won. The only favorable outcome was Philadelphia’s 2-1 loss Saturday at Arizona. That kept the Wings and Flyers tied at with 85 points each for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, though Philadelphia still has a game in hand.

 

All of which makes tonight’s game against Buffalo absolutely crucial. Philadelphia, meantime, plays host to Winnipeg. The Wings will then hop on their plane for a game Tuesday night at Montreal. Those are four must-win points on the table.

 

Without them, it’s likely curtains for the longest playoff streak in North American professional sports after 24 seasons. . .

 

--

 

Not bragging or anything, because this has way more to do with luck than anything else, but I’ve got an NCAA bracket with North Carolina beating Oklahoma in the NCAA men’s basketball finals. As good as Oklahoma looked getting to the Final Four, I don’t see anybody close to the

dominance that the Tar Heels have shown all season. And they seem to be peaking at the right time. . .

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