SASKATOON - The man known as Mr. Hockey has a new title—Dr. Hockey.
National Hockey League legend Gordie Howe, 82, received an honorary doctor of laws degree Thursday from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
University president Peter MacKinnon lauded Howe's "peerless performance" as a professional hockey player over a span of 33 years and said Howe's philanthropic contributions to the community make him an inspiration for all Canadians.
"Among a handful of the very best players in the history of the game, Gordie Howe is a role model for those who take raw talent and use hard work and dedication to achieve great success," MacKinnon told the graduates.
Howe stood quietly on the stage wearing a red convocation gown. He smiled and gave a wave to the crowd, but did not speak.
In an email, Howe's son Marty said: "I can tell you he is very honoured to receive the honorary degree, especially with his remaining brothers and sisters present."
The man who is regarded as one of the best to ever play the game was born in Floral, Sask., in 1928 and grew up in Saskatoon during the depression.
In 1946, at the age of 18, Howe entered the National Hockey League. He was in the top five in scoring for twenty consecutive years in the NHL. Howe endured crippling injuries during his career amassing 500 stitches in his face alone, according to his website MrHockey.com.
The Hall of Famer won four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in the 1950s and six Hart Trophies as the league's most valuable player.
On the stage Thursday, one university vice-president sported a Detroit Red Wings jersey beneath her gown.
MacKinnon also recognized Howe's charity work, including his Howe Foundation, which raises money so that underprivileged children can play hockey. There was a lot of support for Howe's nomination for the honorary degree, he said.
A letter from former NHL coach and University of Saskatchewan alumnus Dave King called Howe "a terrific role model."
"Beyond his hockey accomplishments, he has demonstrated quiet dignity and a selfless manner reminding us that greatness goes beyond our careers and accomplishments," MacKinnon read from King's letter.
A letter from Wayne Gretzky stated: "Throughout my career and beyond, (Howe) has been a great mentor and inspired me. His inspiration has also reached many others and given them hope that a small-town Saskatchewan boy can indeed follow his dreams."
MacKinnon said Howe continually rises above adversity to achieve success.
"He overcame great odds to become the dominant figure in a sport that requires superior physical ability, commitment and determination. He withstood serious injury and later defied conventional wisdom that he was too old to play at a high level," said MacKinnon.
"This man has brought honour to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Canada."
—By Jennifer Graham in Regina