Gordie Howe funeral in Detroit honours Mr. Hockey before hundreds

Gordie Howe's funeral attracted hundreds of members of hockey royalty, dignitaries and fans who had a chance to pay their final respects to the hockey Hall of Famer known as Mr. Hockey, who died Friday at age 88.

'The only people he didn't like were referees,' Howe's son Dr. Murray Howe remembers about No. 9

Hundreds of family members, friends and fans of Gordie Howe — including sports icons like Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Frank Mahovlich — said goodbye to Mr. Hockey at his funeral services today at Detroit's Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

People began filing into the cathedral in the light rain early in the morning, hoping to get a seat to see their idol one last time. By the end of the funeral around 1 p.m. ET, the sun was shining as pallbearers carried the coffin with No. 9 to a hearse.

A woman holds up a No. 9 sign as members of the general public enter the cathedral to attend the funeral for late hockey legend Gordie Howe in Detroit on Wednesday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Howe, who was born in Floral, Sask., died Friday in Ohio at age 88.

"I still pinch myself knowing that Mr. Hockey was my father," his son, Dr. Murray Howe, said in opening the funeral service with the eulogy for his father. "There are endless superlatives that come to mind when describing my dad.

"Mr. Hockey had no regrets. Even though he didn't lead the league in church attendance, his life has been the model of the faithful servant." 

Howe remembered his dad as a kind, humble, helpful man with a sharp wit and strong sense of knowing between right and wrong. 

"He never accepted credit for his accomplishment. He thanked God, his family, his coaches, trainers and his family," Murray Howe said. "The only people he didn't like were referees."

When Howe spoke with his dad a few years ago about the planned eulogy, the hockey superstar told his son to say: "'Finally, the end of the third period; I hope there's a hockey team in heaven." 

Thousands at public memorial

The funeral followed Tuesday's visitation at Joe Louis Arena that drew thousands of people who paid their respects to the Hall of Famer known as Mr. Hockey. Members of Howe's family were there to greet the visitors.

Interior of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament during the funeral for late hockey legend Gordie Howe, Wednesday, June 15, 2016 in Detroit. (Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press)

The home of the Detroit Red Wings, Howe's team for more than two decades and four Stanley Cup championships, was opened at 9 a.m. ET and scheduled to close at 9 p.m. — for No. 9, of course — but so many people showed up that the visitation lasted longer than planned.

Howe shattered records, threw elbows and fists, and became an idol to Gretzky and many others while elevating the profile the NHL had in the U.S. With strength, speed and grit, Howe set NHL records with 801 goals and 1,850 points  that stood until Brantford, Ont.-born Gretzky came along.

Murray Howe talks to family members at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament before the funeral for hockey legend, Gordie Howe, Wednesday, June 15, 2016 in Detroit. (Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press)

"Not everybody gets to meet their hero or their idol," said Gretzky, among those attending the visitation and funeral, where he sat beside his wife Janet Gretzky. "And sometimes when you meet them, it wasn't as good as you thought it would be. I got so lucky that the guy I chose happened to be so special."

Gretzky was also among the pallbearers, who also included former coaching great Scotty Bowman, now in the Chicago Blackhawks head office, and ex-Detroit Tigers outfielder Al Kaline.