Following the footsteps of a legend

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

It didn’t matter when or where you grew up — Sweden or Russia, Canada or the United States — if you were a hockey fan, you grew up in awe of Gordie Howe, his achievements on the ice and his humble, gentlemanly nature off it.

Howe already had scored 1,000 professional goals and was playing in World Hockey Association when Pavel Datsyuk was born in Russia in 1978. By the time Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall were born in 1980 and 1981, respectively, Howe had retired from the NHL — he was 52 years old.

Yet, when those players got to Detroit, Howe’s presence in the dressing room would leave them stunned.

“He would always joke around with the guys, kept it really simple and easy for us,” Zetterberg said. “I was really young when I met him the first time. I was real nervous but he made it a lot easier than I thought it would be. He’s done so much for hockey and for our club.”

Howe’s hockey career spanned six decades, and though some of the statistics and records he established have been surpassed, his legacy and contribution to the sport — and Detroit — never will be.

He is and will always be, Mr. Hockey.

March 31, 1928

Howe is born in Floral, Saskatchewan. A week later, his mother Katherine and father Albert move the family to Saskatoon.

1941-44

Howe plays high school hockey for King George in Saskatoon.

Aug. 22, 1943

Howe has a tryout with the Rangers. He is 15 years old, stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 200 pounds.

Oct. 6, 1944

Howe is invited to try out for a spot on the the Red Wings roster.

1944-45

Howe joins the Galt Junior Red Wings of the Ontario Hockey Association, but is restricted to playing exhibitions only because of association rules.

Nov. 1, 1945

Howe signs his first pro contract with the Omaha Knights of the United States Hockey League, the semi-pro farm team for the Red Wings. He plays in the 1945-46 season.

Oct. 8, 1946

Howe signs his first contract with the Red Wings, and is given sweater No. 17.

Oct. 16, 1946

Howe scores his first NHL goal during his first game against Maple Leafs goaltender Turk Broda.

Oct. 19, 1946

Howe posts his first NHL assist, on a goal by Adam Brown, against the Maple Leafs. He also receives his first major penalty for fighting Bill Ezinicki.

Nov. 1, 1947

New Red Wings coach Tommy Ivan places Howe at right wing on a line with center Sid Abel and left wing Ted Lindsay. The line, dubbed “The Production Line,” becomes one of the most potent in history.

Oct. 29, 1947

Howe changes sweater numbers from 17 to No. 9 after Roy Conacher, who wears No. 9, is traded to the Blackhawks. Howe is told the lower numbers get better bunks on the train.

1949-50

The Production Line finishes 1-2-3 in the NHL scoring race.

March 28, 1950

Howe suffers a head injury in a playoff game when he is checked awkwardly into the boards by Maple Leafs captain Ted Kennedy. Howe suffers a fractured skull, concussion, broken cheek bone and a broken nose. The skull fracture requires life-threatening brain surgery.

April 23, 1950

The Red Wings win the first of four Stanley Cups during Howe’s playing days.

Jan. 17, 1951

Howe scores regular-season goal No. 100 against Canadians goaltender Gerry McNeil in Montreal, on Maurice “Rocket” Richard night, no less.

April 15, 1952

The Red Wings sweep the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup, Howe’s second. They win all eight playoff games required, which prompts a fan to throw an octopus on the ice — and a Detroit tradition is born.

Feb. 15, 1953

Howe scores his 200th goal, against Blackhawks goaltender Al Rollins.

April 15, 1953

Howe marries Colleen J. Joffa at Calvary Presbyterian Church on Grand River Ave. in Detroit, near Olympia Stadium.

Oct. 10, 1953

Howe records the first of two career “Gordie Howe hat tricks” — goal, assist and a fight. The other comes March 21, 1958.

Feb. 18, 1954

Howe’s first son, Marty Gordon, is born.

April 16, 1954

The Red Wings beat the Canadiens for Howe’s third Stanley Cup.

April 14, 1955

Howe scores the Stanley Cup-winning goal in a 3-1 victory over the Canadians. It is Howe’s fourth and last Cup.

May 28, 1955

Howe’s second son, Mark Steven, is born.

Feb. 7, 1956

Howe scores his 300th goal, against Blackhawks goaltender Al Rollins.

Oct. 11, 1958

Howe wears the “C” for the first time as Red Wings captain.

Dec. 13, 1958

Howe becomes the second player to score 400 career goals when he slips one past Canadians goaltender Jacques Plante.

Feb. 1, 1959

Rangers tough guy Lou Fontinato challenges Howe to a fight — and Howe destroys him. It is the last time any opponent willingly challenges Howe to a fight.

March 3, 1959

“Gordie Howe Night” is celebrated at the Detroit Olympia. It is the first time during his 13-year career Howe’s father, Albert, sees him play in an NHL arena.

March 24, 1959

Howe’s daughter, Cathleen Jill, is born.

Feb. 16, 1960

With a goal and an assist, Howe surpasses Maurice “Rocket” Richard as the NHL’s career leading scorer.

Sept. 15, 1960

Howe’s third son, Murray Albert, is born.

Nov. 26, 1961

Howe becomes the first NHL player to play 1,000 regular-season games.

March 14, 1962

Howe becomes the second NHL player, behind Maruice “Rocket” Richard, to score 500 goals, netting No. 500 against N.Y. Rangers goaltender Gump Worsley.

Oct. 27, 1963

Howe scores his 544th goal, tying Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s career NHL regular-season record.

Nov. 10, 1963

Howe scores his 545th goal, surpassing Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s career mark.

Nov. 14, 1964

Howe becomes the NHL’s career goal-scoring leader, including playoffs, when he beats Montreal goaltender Charlie Hodge. t is Howe’s 627th goal and comes in his 1,233rd game, including the playoffs.

Nov. 27, 1965

Howe scores his 600th goal, against Montreal goaltender Gump Worsley.

Dec. 4, 1968

Howe scores his 700th goal, against Pittsburgh goaltender Les Binkley.

June 25, 1971

How is made an officer of the Order of Canada.

Summer 1971

Howe’s mother, Katherine, dies suddenly of a head injury.

Sept. 8, 1971

Howe announces his retirement.

March 12, 1972

Howe’s No. 9 jersey is retired by the Red Wings.

June 7, 1972

Howe is elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

June 5, 1973

Howe, along with sons Marty and Mark, signs a four-year deal with the Houston Aeroes of the World Hockey Association.

May 19, 1974

Howe wins his first World Hockey Association championship with the Houston Aeros.

June 1977

Howe signs as a free agent with the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association.

Dec. 7, 1977

Howe, playing for the Plymouth Whalers, scores the 1,000th goal of his career, against Birmingham goaltender John Garrett.

Oct. 11, 1979

Howe returns to the NHL, playing with sons Marty and Mark with the Hartford Whalers.

Feb. 29, 1980

Howe becomes the first player in history to reach 800 career goals during a 3-0 victory over St. Louis.

April 9, 1980

Howe scores his final NHL goal, a backhander from the top of the circle against Montreal.

April 11, 1980

Howe plays his final NHL game, becoming the oldest person to play in an NHL game at 52 years and 10 days.

June 4, 1980

Howe announces his retirement. He finishes with 1,850 points (801 goals).

Feb. 18, 1981

“Gordie Howe Day” is celebrated in Hartford, where the Whalers retire Howe’s No. 9. When the Whalers move to North Carolina, the Hurricanes agree to keep Howe’s number retired but do not have a banner recognizing it.

Oct. 15, 1989

Wayne Gretzky records two points — an assist and a goal against Edmonton — to surpass Howe’s career points mark.

Oct. 3, 1997

Howe plays a shift with the International Hockey League’s Detroit Vipers, extending his record of consecutive decades played in pro hockey to six.

2002

Colleen Howe is diagnosed with Pick’s disease, an incurable neurological disease that causes dementia.

March 6, 2009

Colleen Howe dies at the age of 76.

2010

Howe begins to experience memory loss, and is found to be in the early stages of dementia.

Oct. 26, 2014

Howe suffers a stroke while visiting his daughter in Lubbock, Texas. He loses use of his right arm and leg, and his speech is slurred.

December 2014

Howe undergoes stem cell treatment at Clinica Santa Clarita in Tijuana, Mexico. The clinical trial is offered to Howe by Novastem, a regenerative medicine company.

Week of March 22, 2015

The week before his 87th birthday, Howe goes fishing.

Sept. 24, 2015

Howe is with his sons, Mark and Murray, at a Red Wings exhibition at Joe Louis Arena, approximately 11 months after the hockey legend suffered a stroke and dealt with a major setback.

March 29, 2016

The sellout crowd at a Red Wings game at Joe Louis Arena stands and sings “Happy Birthday to You” to Howe, who is in attendance. He turns 88 two days later.

June 10, 2016

Howe dies at the age of 88.