Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - SPORTS -

THE rea­son this is stun­ning to some of us, par­tic­u­larly in Detroit, is Howe seemed tough enough to beat back any af­flic­tion. When we heard in Oc­to­ber 2014 a se­vere stroke had left him nearly de­void of speech and with lim­ited use of his ex­trem­i­ties, we pre­pared for the worst. We heard he was bedrid­den. That he’d dropped 35 pounds. But then came the news he had made a re­mark­able re­cov­ery, with the aid of an ex­per­i­men­tal stem-cell treat­ment. He was fend­ing off de­men­tia, he put weight back on, he even be­gan trav­el­ling and was hon­oured in his home­town in Canada.

It was the kind of tough­ness you ex­pected from Howe, who was re­port­edly six feet tall as a teenager, dropped out of school to work construction, and even­tu­ally left Saska­toon, where he’d been raised, to pur­sue his hockey ca­reer. A child of the De­pres­sion, he was am­bidex­trous, he could fight, he could skate, score, pass, clear room for him­self with his fa­mous fly­ing el­bows. There was noth­ing, seem­ingly, he couldn’t or wouldn’t do in the game of hockey. Maybe the only thing is live for­ever. “The last time I saw him was kind of sad and funny,” Shana­han re­called. “He came out to drop the cer­e­mo­nial puck at the alumni game the year Detroit hosted the Win­ter Clas­sic (2014). He was es­corted out on the ice. I could just see that he was a lit­tle bit lost, not quite sure what he was do­ing. We’d heard he was suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia and my dad had that, so I kind of knew what it looked like.

“A pho­tog­ra­pher was try­ing to po­si­tion him so he could take a photo, and at one point he grabbed Gordie by the arm, try­ing to gen­tly ma­noeu­vre him. Well, the old in­stincts kicked in, and Gordie sort of raised his arm and mum­bled some­thing like ‘Get your hands off me.’ That’s the look he gave the guy. And I thought, “There he is. There’s the old Mr. Hockey.”

There he will re­main, in sto­ries like that, in pages on record books, in a statue and a bridge and streets and fu­ture mon­u­ments, and for­ever, for­ever, in our mem­o­ries, par­tic­u­larly in this lit­tle corner of the planet.

Su­per­man just bid us farewell. The comic book ver­sion had an “S” across his chest. Ours had a winged wheel.

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