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Windsor — Mr. Hockey is about to become Mr. Bridge.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Rick Snyder said here Thursday that a long-planned Detroit River bridge crossing will be called the Gordie Howe International Bridge after the revered Detroit Red Wings legend who who was born and reared in Canada but later adopted the United States as home.

The 87-year-old is one of the greatest hockey players in history, but it is unusual for a Canadian landmark to be named after a living person.

"This is joining two countries, two jurisdictions, two communities in what is a very strong and important relationship," Harper said. "And I don't think we could think of a better person who symbolizes that relationship better than Gordie Howe."

Gordie's sons Murray and Marty were on hand for the announcement, along with Murray's wife Colleen, at the posh Canadian Club along the river between Detroit and Windsor. Snyder, Harper and the three Howe family members wore the red lapel pins with Howe's famous Red Wing No. 9 on them.

Son Murray Howe, who spoke for the family, said it is "truly, truly an incredible honor." He recalled the story of his grandmother who came from Germany to Windsor for a better life.

"So Windsor is where it all began," he said. "How fitting that this is where the bridge begins. When I told my Dad that the bridge would be named in his honor, he said, 'That sounds pretty good to me.' He is deeply moved by this gracious gesture."

Snyder, who said it was the prime minister's idea to honor Howe, was also effusive in his praise.

"You couldn't find a better name in the world than to name it the Gordie Howe International Bridge because it represents everything it stands for. It wasn't a tough decision-making process. He said Gordie Howe would be a great name. I said, 'Yeah.' "

The governor said naming the yet-to-be-built bridge after Howe while he's alive "adds value to it."

Snyder would like to take the Wings legend, who's been recovering from a stroke, to the site in Detroit for the new Wings hockey arena and "then take him down to the river and show him where the new bridge is going to be. That would be awesome."

Howe's hockey career lasted from 1946 to 1980, and helped the Wings win four Stanley Cup chamionships. He scored 801 goals in the National Hockey League along with another 174 goals in the rebel World Hockey Association that lasted from 1972-79.

During the five decades, "he didn't just survive, he was dominant — on the scoring lists, in battles in the corners, on game-winning goals and when the year-end awards were handed out," according to Howe's Hall of Fame biography.

Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group based in East Lansing, called the naming of the bridge "absolutely brilliant branding."

"From a business perspective, they gave a memorable name to a what has been a fuzzy concept," Anderson said. "From a political perspective, they found someone more popular than any current elected officials on both sides of the border. And from an economic perspective, they reminded all of us of the longstanding economic partnership between Ontario and Michigan."

The bridge is expected to be completed by 2020, with a total of six lanes, border inspection plazas and connections to major highways in Detroit and Windsor. Snyder said the process of paying people "fair value" for their property has begun and said "the pace is picking up, and it's on a pace for 2020."

Snyder has been a key ally to Harper's government in a years-long battle to build a new $2.1 billion span, which had been dubbed the New International Trade Crossing. The Canadians are paying for all the constructions costs of the span between southwest Detroit and Windsor, roughly two miles from the privately owned Ambassador Bridge.

Canada is fronting Michigan's $550 million share of the bridge, which will have to be repaid through tolls.

The Canadians also are financing the construction of a $250 million U.S. customs plaza in southwest Detroit after Snyder's longstanding funding request from the Obama administration and Congress faltered.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

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