To a generation of hockey fans Wayne Gretzky is "The Great One" a player unparalleled in the games history, but when Wayne Gretzky grew up there was no Great One, he grew up watching Mr. Hockey, a player that even Gretzky would call, and has called, the greatest to ever play the game.
With that in mind it's no surprise that today is a very difficult day for Gretzky who grew up idolizing Mr. Hockey, was mentored by him, and would eventually play alongside him as a member of the WHA All-Stars. The Great One shared his thoughts with Dan Rosen today on the passing of Gordie Howe.
"He was everything to me," Gretzky told NHL.com in a phone interview. "I was lucky enough in life to have the greatest father ever, and if I could say I had a stepdad it was probably Gordie. I idolized him as a kid and was fortunate enough to become friends with him. There's not too many times you can grow up idolizing somebody that you can say at the end of the day we became really good friends. He was just everything."
Gretzky shared some of his favorite anecdotes from his times with Howe, but one particular story from Gretzky, his description of Howe's interaction with President Ronald Regan, is a perfect example of what made Howe so special, so captivating, and beloved by so many.
"I remember saying to my dad, 'President Reagan was talking to Gordie Howe like he was his best friend,' " Gretzky said. "It was the most amazing thing to me. He was so at ease talking to Gordie and I kept thinking, 'Wow, how cool is that?' "
"He was from a different time, a different era," Gretzky said. "He would go fishing with guys like Red Fisher, Frank Orr and Stan Fischler. He was friends with those guys. They didn't just idolize Gordie and write Gordie was the best player, they were friends with him. He would go out of his way to make sure Danny Gallivan could spend time with him. That's the way it was and that's what Gordie did, he made everybody feel special. He just had this one-on-one relationship with people. He was just a normal person."
Gretzky recounted that no matter where he went, everyone seemed to know Gordie Howe, and to a young Wayne Gretzky that seemed to be something very special. When asked if he can relate considering the level of attention he gets now as an NHL legend, Gretzky told Rosen that it's just not the same, Gordie was special.
"Oh, not like him. He was pretty special. He was everything."
Rest in peace Mr. Hockey.