SASKATOON – The mayor of Gordie Howe’s hometown of Saskatoon says he had to take a deep breath when he heard the hockey great had died.
“Today’s a sad day for us in Saskatoon and we’ve ordered the flags be lowered to half-mast for Gordie Howe in recognition of the service he has provided to the city,” Don Atchison said Friday.
“He’s had a great impact on the community, especially for the youth, not only hockey. It was baseball. It was golf. It was all the different sports he was involved in,” Atchison said.
“He’s been involved in a lot of charities along the way and he helped mentor a lot of hockey players and set them in the right direction and changed a lot of lives.”
Atchison, a goaltender who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1970s but never played an NHL game, called Howe an exceptional talent, who was not only a great scorer, but also a playmaker and enforcer.
He recalled what would be Howe’s final visit to Saskatoon in February 2015 for a celebrity dinner in his honour. Howe had already had a number of strokes and Atchison was worried about him.
He needn’t have been.
“As we were getting our pictures taken together, in true form, he took his elbow and kind of gave me a little nudge that I should move over a bit, that I was perhaps taking up a little too much room in the picture,” Atchison recalled with a smile.
“His elbows … were still as sharp as they were when he was 25 years old.”
The city already has several venues and a road named after Howe, but Atchison said he’s open to other suggestions.
“Right now there’s Gordie Howe Bowl, Gordie Howe baseball, softball, Gordie Howe Lane … the hockey rink. But you know anything’s possible.
“Leave the door open and something else may happen.”
Atchison noted that fans were urging Garth Brooks to wear a Howe hockey jersey when the country singer performed at a concert in Saskatoon on Friday night.