DETROIT (WWJ) – Hearts are heavy in Hockeytown following the death of Gordie Howe Friday at age 88.

Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch says it’s a sad day for the Wings and the entire hockey world.

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“He embodied on and off the ice what it meant to be both a Red Wing and a Detroiter,” Illitch said, in a statement.

“He was tough, skilled, and consistently earned success at the highest level. His achievements are numerous and his accomplishments immeasurable.  It is truly a blessing to have had him both in our organization and our city for so many years. He will be deeply missed.”

Speaking live on WWJ Newsradio 950, Red Wings radio play-by-play man Ken Kal said Howe had a great attitude, always friendly with hockey fans and broadcasters alike.

“He always signed autographs for the kids, you know, always had time to say hi,” Kal said. “I can remember a couple of times being actually broadcasting the game and he’d come up halfway through the period; and while you’re calling the came he’d give you a little shot in the ribs with elbow as he passed by the broadcast booth.”

Kal said Mr. Hockey would play hard and play fair; although if you crossed him during a game, he made it a point to return the favor.

Kal praised Howe, who scored 801 goals in his career, as a sharpshooter from anywhere on the ice.

“Everybody says, you know, Bobby Orr is the greatest and Wayne Gretsky is the greatest, but, I mean I grew up here watching him play late in his career; I had a chance to chance to watch him at Olympia and later on when he was playing for the Hartford Whalers, and I’ll tell you what: To play this game at age 50 — not many players can do that and play it as great as he did,” Kal said.

“To me he is the all-time greatest player and all-time greatest Red Wing as well.”

After his NHL career, Howe came out of retirement to join the rival World Hockey Association. With the Houston Aeros, Howe got to play alongside two of his sons, and went on to win two WHA championships.

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Jerry Trupiano, a play-by-play announcer for the Aeros and friend of Howe’s, said Howe had a skill on the ice that few possess.

“He had the ability to, as Gretsky did years later, to see things before they could actually develop, to anticipate things. He had great anticipation.”

Trupiano said there are many crazy stories about Mr. Hockey.

“The story goes he wore somebody else’s coat and had a cardboard suitcase when he showed up for the Red Wings training camp the first time he reported for Detroit,” Trupiano said, also recalling a chance meeting Howe had with a hockey fan.

“(He was) seated in the airport and this lady comes up, cloth coat, and she says, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Howe,’ and she shows she had a maple leaf on the lapel of the coat, and she said, ‘I just wanted to tell you I’m a Canadian, God bless you and thank you.'”

Gov. Rick Snyder says, in a city that cherishes its many champions, Howe was perhaps the most beloved.

“Gordie Howe will forever be remembered as ‘Mr. Hockey,’ but he could also be known as ‘Mr. Detroit’ or ‘Mr. Michigan’ for the years of thrills he gave Red Wings fans in our state and around the world. He represented Detroit with pride and class,” the governor said, in a statement.

“Howe became universally respected for his tough play and durability in a career that spanned decades, setting records that stood for years, and some that likely will never be broken. After eventually hanging up the skates, Howe continued living in Michigan and served as an ambassador for his sport and Detroit.

“His legacy in Michigan will carry on through the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will stand as a united symbol between his home country and his adopted country, representing the teamwork he always embodied.

“Sue and I extend our condolences to the Howe family, and also a heartfelt thank you to a legend who epitomized the word ‘champion’ on and off the ice.”

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Gordie is survived by his four children, Marty, Mark, Cathy and Murray, and nine grandchildren.