Saskatoon

'What a fight he had': Gordie Howe remembered by sister

"I guess he didn't want to fight anymore, but what a fight he had," Gordie Howe's sister Helen Cummine says.

Helen Cummine says last few days had been bad for Howe, and she had been waiting for the call

Flowers sit at the bottom of a Gordie Howe statue outside SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

Saskatoon is mourning the death of Gordie Howe.

The hockey legend spent his formative years in the prairie city before he left to play hockey in the United States. He was known as "Mr. Hockey" and was the NHL's all-time leading scorer before the records were broken by Wayne Gretzky.

His sister Helen Cummine received the news of his death just before 7 a.m. CST this morning. 

"I guess he didn't want to fight anymore, but what a fight he had," she said. "Oh God, I just don't know. I'm going to miss him so, so much."
NHL legend Gordie Howe died Friday morning at age 88. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images/File)

'Tough old bugger'

Cummine said the last few days had been bad for Howe and that she had been waiting for the call. 

"He was a tough old bugger," she said from her home in Saskatoon. "He's down and you think, this is it. And then he's up and you get all these hopes and then he's back down again." 
Family members of Howe visited his statue outside SaskTel Centre this morning and left these flowers with a note. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

Cummine and other family members visited the Gordie Howe statue in front of Sasktel Centre this morning to pay tribute to Mr. Hockey. They left flowers and a note at the base of the statue. 

"It wasn't much, just said, to my dear brother, rest in place, love you."

Cummine said Howe was able to see his children, grandchildren, and some of his great grandchildren at his home in Savannah, Ohio, just a few days ago. She said Howe had a great time visiting with all of them.

Three weeks ago Cummine called Howe's son Murray, who was staying with Gordie. She said she talked to Murray for a while before speaking with Gordie.
Gordie Howe Lane runs outside the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

"He couldn't talk, but I nattered away at him," said Cummine. "That's the last time I talked to him."

One of Cummine's favourite memories of her brother happened on one of his last visits to Saskatoon a few years ago.

His son Murray was visiting and they all decided to go back to the community Gordie grew up in. Cummine said Howe was showing his son houses in the neighbourhood and decided to go up to some of them.

"People would open the door and he'd stick his hand out and go, 'I'm Gordie Howe. I used to live here,'" said Cummine.

"Their eyes would almost pop out."

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      Paying tribute

      Howe was honoured at a banquet in Saskatoon last year. Hockey greats including Wayne Gretzky, Bobby and Brett Hull and Lanny McDonald all travelled to the Prairie city to pay tribute.

      Speaking to reporters before the event, Gretzky said meeting Howe as a child was a huge experience. 

      "A lot of times when you meet your idol, kids walk away saying, 'It wasn't as good, it wasn't as great as I thought it would be,'" he said. "He was nicer and better and bigger [than anyone]."

      Howe played professional hockey for 32 years, most notably with the Detroit Red Wings, where he played on four Stanley Cup winning teams. 
      Gordie Howe at 50, playing with the New England Whalers, elbows Curt Brackenbury of the Quebec Nordiques in his final WHA season in December 1978.. (Doug Ball/Canadian Press)

      Howe retired in 1980 as the NHL leader in career goals (801) and career points (1,850). Both records were later broken by Gretzky, but Howe always maintained that his string of 20 straight seasons as one of the league's top five scorers was the true measure of his Hall of Fame career.

      After a series of strokes in late 2014, Howe was placed in a medically induced coma, but his condition greatly improved following stem cell treatment in Mexico, according to his son Mark Howe.

      The City of Saskatoon has honoured Howe by naming a community ice rink the Gordie Howe Kinsmen Arena.

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