DETROIT — Hockey fans are streaming into Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena to pay their final respects to NHL legend Gordie Howe.
The Hall of Famer, who died Friday at age 88, is lying in repose at the rink for today’s public visitation. The tribute began at 9 a.m. and the doors will remain open until 9 p.m. — a nod to Howe’s iconic No. 9 Red Wings jersey.
A few hundred people — many wearing Howe sweaters — lined up to be among the first inside.
Wayne Gretzky, former Wings coach Scotty Bowman and Detroit general manager Ken Holland are among those attending the visitation.
“He’s the nicest man I ever met,” Gretzky said. “I’ve been lucky in my lifetime. I got to be part of hosting the Queen, my wife and I got to meet Pope John Paul, I got to light the torch at Vancouver at the Olympic Games and they’re all great honours.
“But when the boys asked me to be a pallbearer today, it was pretty special.”
There are two large banners outside the entrance where fans can write messages of sympathy.
Inside the arena, fans are lining up on a red carpet leading to Howe’s coffin. The lights have been dimmed with No. 9 projected on the ice and two screens are running slideshows of old photos.
Four Stanley Cup banners are also on display alongside Howe’s retired number banner.
Howe’s funeral is set for Wednesday. It will also be open to the public.
Red Wings fan Bud Somerville lined up outside the arena late last night to be the first in line. The 60-year-old from Westland, Mich., said he was a teenager when he first met Howe at the old Detroit Olympia arena.
“He’s always been my favorite player, just nobody compared to him,” he said. “He was the greatest ever. They call Gretzky the greatest, but Mr. Hockey is the greatest.”
Howe was a star forward for the Red Wings during much of his career, which started in 1946 and ended in 1980.
Born in Floral, Sask., Howe set NHL marks with 801 goals and 1,850 points. His records were eventually eclipsed by Gretzky.
“He had a way with being able to talk to anybody and everybody and put everybody at ease,” Gretzky said. “He was just genuinely that nice. Just a really good person.”
The Canadian Press via Sportsnet.ca | Photo: NBC
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