Vancouver lays out welcome mat for Howe, Buble bubbling over Mr. Hockey

VANCOUVER – Vancouver showed Mr. Hockey the love Thursday.

On a day when his health was a hot topic, Gordie Howe drew a standing ovation at a Canucks game and had stars like singer Michael Buble bubbling at an earlier Vancouver Giants event in Howe’s honour.

Howe, watching his Detroit Red Wings play the Canucks, received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 18,890 during the second period when he was introduced by the public address announcer. Standing in Scotiabank’s corporate suite, Howe waved to the crowd and soaked up the adoration as he was shown on the scoreboard’s giant video screen.

Howe spent the game in the suite kibitzing with players who will take part in an upcoming Scotiabank Pro-Am fundraising tournament in Vancouver in October. He also hammed it up for a photographer, showing off a ring that commemorates his Stanley Cup wins.

Son Marty Howe said the ring was made specially for his dad because, unlike today, jewellery was not awarded to players on Stanley Cup-winning teams during Gordie’s heyday with the Wings.

Ealrier in the day, guests ranging from former NHLers to future ones savoured a visit from 83-year-old Gordie for the unveiling of a special Vancouver Giants jersey in his honour. The WHL club, of which Gordie is a minority owner, will wear the jersey Friday in a game against the Kamloops Blazers.

“It always inspires others to see how he carries himself,” said Buble, also a Giants minority owner. “He’s out here doing a chat with all these kids and he just threw a rubber puck on the ice. . . .. It’s a lot of fun to be able to watch him.”

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Gordie did not speak to reporters as he socialized with club owners, players and guests and posed for team pictures.

He attended the ceremony prior to helping promote the Scotiabank Pro-Am charitable hockey tournament featuring amateur hockey players and NHLers, who are drafted to teams in return for donations.

Launched in 2004, the tournament spans four cities across the country (Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver) and has raised more than $16 million for care and research in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

“He’s such an inspiration to the (players),” said Giants majority owner Ron Toigo, a close friend. “Most of the guys have no idea who he’s talking about from that era he was in. But (their) parents know and their grandparents know, and they still have the ultimate respect for who he is and what he means to the game.”

Toigo, who is helping to create a Vancouver chapter for the Scotiabank Pro-Am, said Howe’s story has raised awareness of mental illness.

Howe’s wife Colleen died of Pick’s Disease in 2009 and Howe is dealing with a mild form of dementia.