The bond between Red Kelly and Gordie Howe goes well beyond winning the Stanley Cup four times as teammates with the Detroit Red Wings.
Kelly brought it up in the first few minutes of a conversation about his former roommate and teammate, the legendary Howe, who died Friday at 88.
"He was the reason I met my wife, Andra," Kelly said in a telephone interview Friday with The Times.
Howe was supposed to meet figure skating champion Barbara Ann Scott after an ice show in Detroit and rounded up Kelly to go along to dinner. As it turned out, Scott wasn't on hand but they met another star skater, Andra McLaughlin.
"Andra was all fascinated with Gordie there. And I sort of sat and watched. I got the chance to meet her," Kelly said, adding, "And eight years later we got married."
Kelly, who was the first coach of the Kings, said the last time he saw Howe was a few years ago — "before he got sick" — when Howe visited Red and Andra in Toronto.
"He was showing my wife all his injuries," Kelly said. "The plate that he had in his head and his famous elbow, and his knees, where he had operations.
"We're about the same age. I'm just a speck older than he is. It's really sad to see that it happened. I know we're losing players my age. He was a great player and a teammate and great to live with."
Wayne Gretzky phoned in to the Canadian cable network TSN (The Sports Network) to speak about Howe. Gretzky's voice was filled with emotion as he talked about his idol and mentor.
"As I tell people all the time, he was nicer and better and bigger than I could have ever imagined," Gretzky told TSN. "From my point of view, I picked the right idol. He was the greatest player that ever lived and happened to be maybe the nicest athlete that I've ever met. And I've met a lot of nice ones. He might have been the nicest."
Howe's passing occurred on the day of the memorial service for Muhammad Ali.
"I had signed at 17 years old and the WHA wanted me to go to New York with Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe to promote the WHA," Gretzky said. "Of course nobody knew who I was in New York. … We were standing in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel and I remember Muhammad Ali came walking over to Gordie and Bobby.
"I remember thinking, 'My goodness, even Muhammad Ali knows Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull.' "
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about Howe at a public event Friday morning.
"His career inspired and gave rise to many many dreams in many many Canadians of what could be and what might be," Trudeau said. "He was a gentleman. But he was also very much a tough guy. … This is something that is a very very sad moment for us all as we think about Mr. Hockey and the incredible legacy of inspiring generations that he leaves behind."
Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman, who played his entire career in Detroit and won the Stanley Cup three times with the Red Wings, said in a statement about Howe's broad impact:
"Gordie's humility and kindness left a permanent impression on me, greatly influencing how I tried to conduct myself throughout my career. His impact on the Red Wings organization is still evident today. I travel the world and constantly hear stories from people who love the Wings and share memories of the glory days when Gordie and his teammates ruled the NHL.
"For all players fortunate enough to play for the Wings, we should take time to thank and honor Gordie, for he is a significant reason why Detroit is such a special place to play. To Gordie's surviving family, I offer my sincere condolences, in particular to his son Mark, my former teammate and colleague, who cannot help but remind me of his father every time I see him."
Yzerman is the Tampa Bay Lightning's vice president and general manager.
Red Wings star forward Pavel Datsyuk paid homage, via twitter: "World lost one of the greatest human beings and the best all time hockey player. Thanks for many lessons and memories. #RIP Gordie."
Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald, in a statement, thanking 'Mr. Hockey':
"Gordie Howe is a true legend who not only inspired so many people by his achievements on the ice, but to all of those who interacted with him throughout his life. He represented our game with great dignity and always had time for his legions of fans."