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Gordie Howe, known as 'Mr. Hockey,' dies at 88

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Gordie Howe, known as 'Mr. Hockey,' dies at 88

DETROIT (AP) -- Gordie Howe, the rough-and-tumble Canadian farm boy whose boundless blend of talent and toughness made him the NHL's quintessential star during a career that lasted into his 50s, has died. The man forever known as "Mr. Hockey" was 88.

Son Murray Howe confirmed the death Friday, texting to The Associated Press: "Mr Hockey left peacefully, beautifully, and w no regrets."

Howe shattered records, threw elbows and helped the Detroit Red Wings win four Stanley Cups, becoming an idol to Wayne Gretzky and countless other Canadians while also helping the sport attract American fans.

His final NHL season came at age 52 when Gretzky was a rookie - a fitting symmetry since Howe was the league's most prolific scorer until the "Great One" broke his career marks for goals and points.

With finesse and a heavy dose of grit, the Hockey Hall of Famer set NHL marks with 801 goals and 1,850 points - mostly with the Red Wings - that held up until Gretzky came along. Howe was also so famously fierce that a "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" became synonymous with the combination of having a goal, an assist and a fight in one game.

Howe suffered a stroke in late October 2014 while at his daughter's home in Lubbock, Texas, losing some function on the right side of his body. He suffered another stroke a short time later and family members said chronic back pain, advanced stages of dementia and high blood pressure were taking a toll. The body Howe relied on as an athlete stayed relative strong, but memory loss became a problem that family members noticed before the death of their mother, Colleen, in 2009.

Howe was a giant of the game and no list of the NHL's greatest players has him anywhere but near the top alongside players like Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard, Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Hull and Gretzky. Like few others, Howe's impact on the game stretched over decades.

Besides the four Cups, the talented right winger won six Hart Trophies as NHL MVP and six Ross Trophies as the league's top scorer. Howe began playing for the Red Wings in 1946, leading them to seven straight first-place finishes in the regular season. He was a part of what was known as "The Production Line" with fellow future Hall of Famers Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel during his 25-year run with the franchise.

"When Gordie came into the NHL, hockey was a Canadian game. He converted it into a North American game," former NHL President Clarence Campbell said when Howe retired the first time in 1971 because he was playing with arthritis in his left wrist and for a last-place team.

Howe's wife orchestrated a plan to get "Mr. Hockey" back on the ice two years later. She helped him live his dream of playing professional hockey with his sons, Mark and Marty, in the World Hockey Association. And at the age of 45, Howe still had it. He scored 31 goals and had 69 assists, was named MVP of the NHL's rival league and led the Aeros to the 1973 WHA title - a run that was the focus of a movie: "Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story."

Howe had 41 points for the Hartford Whalers during the 1979-80 season in what was his 26th and final year in the NHL.

When Howe finally retired for good from the NHL, he was 52. And with a single shift with the Detroit Vipers in the International Hockey League in 1997, he played professionally in a sixth decade at the age of 69.

He referred to his play as "poetry in slow motion" late in his career, a far cry from his score-and-smash style in his 20s, 30s and early 40s.

Of course, Howe's prowess in scoring was matched by his skill with the rough stuff. Unlike anyone in quite the same way, Howe handled his business with his elbows and fists almost as often as he did with wrist and slap shots. He ranked among the NHL leaders in penalties minutes three times, spending 100-plus minutes in the penalty box during those seasons. When he resumed playing as a parent with sons on the same sheet of ice, opponents often found out not to mess with his boys.

"If I can skate, I'll get even," Howe once said.

Howe needed more than 400 stitches to close cuts, lost several teeth, broke ribs and nose. He had a serious head injury in 1950 that led to emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. Despite the blood and broken bones, he didn't miss many games during his NHL-record, 1,767-game career and played in all 80 during his final season that ended after his 52nd birthday.

"You've got to love what you're doing," Howe once said. "If you love it, you can overcome any handicap or the soreness or all the aches and pains, and continue to play for a long, long time."

Mark Howe said his father was "the toughest, meanest guy I've ever seen on a pair of skates," and that's why he was able to play for decades.

"No one in their right mind ever wanted to tangle with him," Lindsay has said. "Gordie had a lethal pair of elbows, was strong as a moose and knew every angle."

Gordon Howe was born March 31, 1928, in tiny Floral, Saskatchewan, and raised in nearby on the Canadian prairie in Saskatoon. His father was a laborer and Howe pitched in early, growing strong with the work.

"He was born in a barn and the house he grew up in was no bigger than a garage," Mark Howe said. "They had nothing, like many people during the Depression. Someone was going door to door, selling bags of stuff for $1 and in one of those bags, dad got his first pair of skates."

Howe left as a teenager to pursue a career in hockey. Howe made his NHL debut for the Red Wings at the age of 18. In Howe's second season, he was an All-Star for the first of a record 23 times.

"Finally, I saved enough to buy my mom and dad a brand new home - with running water," he once recalled. "I think that's the biggest thing I ever achieved. That's what I wanted, and I saved my money to buy it."

Howe was 6 feet tall and weighed 205 pounds during his career, making him bigger than post of his peers. His ability to skate, shoot and pass made him a threat to make plays every time he had the puck. No one, according to Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, was quite on par with Howe's style of play that led to a lot of points and punches.

"He could fight, intimidate, play offensively," Bowman recalled.

Howe surpassed Richard's NHL record of 544 goals in 1963 and after the turn of the century, the humorous Howe would walk around Joe Louis Arena in Detroit carrying around a teacup poodle named Rocket. Howe ranked among the top five in scoring for 20 straight seasons.

Gretzky would later break his records for goals, points, MVP trophies and scoring titles while wearing No. 99 in a tribute to Howe, who wore No. 9 during a lower-scoring era of the game. He finished his career in 1999 with 894 goals.

"I thought I had something they would never touch," Howe said. "But I knew when they started scoring 80 goals in a season I was in trouble."

Mark Messier reached 1,887 points in 2004 during his 25th NHL season and pushed Howe from second to third in the record books.

"I haven't celebrated coming in second too many times in my life," Messier said back then. "But I'll tell you, because of what Gordie has done, for us mere mortals who have played this game, being No. 2 is not so bad."

Howe, without a doubt, was most proud of his family. He raved about Colleen, whom he married in 1953. They became personal and professional partners as the woman known as "Mrs. Hockey" championed the game for children and later became her husband's agent. She died in March 2009 at age 76 after battling Pick's disease, a rare form of dementia similar to Alzheimer's. Their children, Murray, Mark, Marty and Cathy, each took turns having him sleep at their houses for weeks or months at a time after their mother died.

Playing with his sons, though, was what Howe said he was most proud of from his career. "The fact that I had an opportunity to skate five years with them," Howe told The AP in 2011, "I think that's every father's dream."

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.

Niklas Hjalmarsson gets standing ovation from United Center crowd in Chicago return

Niklas Hjalmarsson gets standing ovation from United Center crowd in Chicago return

Niklas Hjalmarsson played for the Blackhawks for 10 years and won three Stanley Cups with the team so his return to the United Center was a big deal.

The defenseman, now with the Arizona Coyotes, made his return to Chicago in Thursday's game. The Blackhawks had a tribute video for him during the game and the crowd gave him a standing ovation after the video.

He was teary-eyed after getting the warm reception.

Hjalmarsson was traded by the Blackhawks to the Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin after the 2016-17 season. He played against the Blackhawks on Oct. 21 and again on Feb. 12 last season, but both games were in Arizona.

Injuries limited Hjalmarsson to 48 games last season and he missed Arizona's only trip to the United Center last season, which came in December.

Watch the video above to see Hjalmarsson's tribute and reaction.