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.”
Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe (9) checks a Chicago Blackhawks player into the boards during an NHL game in Detroit in the mid-1950s.(Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images)
Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his 545th goal, setting the NHL career record, in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 10, 1963 in Detroit.(Bruce Bennett)
Rangers goalie Jacques Plante, left, tries to keep Gordie Howe (9) from scoring on Nov. 7, 1963, at Madison Square Garden in New York.(B Bennett / Getty Images)
Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe signs autographs in Montreal in the 1950s.(Denis Brodeur / Getty Images)
The Detroit Red Wings had one of the most successful lines in NHL history in the late 1940s and early 1950s with the “Production Line” of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel. The line reunited in 1964 when Howe, left, and Lindsay, right, played for Abel, who became the coach.(Bruce Bennett)
Gordie Howe (9) beats goalie Johnny Bower and Larry Hillman of the Toronto Maple Leafs to score in the 1960s.(Bruce Bennett)
Gordie Howe of the Red Wings lies in a Detroit hospital after going head-first into the boards during Game 1 of a playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 28, 1950. He is visited by his brother Vic, mother Kathleen and sister Gladys Tyell.(Bruce Bennett)
Gordie Howe shoots against Gilles Marotte of the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 29, 1967 in Detroit.(Bruce Bennett)
Gordie Howe listens records at the home he shared with teammate Ted Lindsay in 1951.(Bruce Bennett)
In this photo from Feb. 16, 1951, Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe, left, works with teammate Ted Lindsay at his workshop in the basement of his home in Detroit.(Bruce Bennett)
Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings slips the puck past New York Rangers goalie Johnny Bower for his 215th career goal, on Nov. 11, 1953 in New York.(Associated Press)
Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe, second from right, and teammates and coaches celebrate after winning the Stanley Cup in 1955. Howe won the Stanley Cup four times with Detroit.(Bruce Bennett )
Hockey was truly a family affair for the Howes. Colleen Howe talks to sons Marty, left, and Mark and husband Gordie on March 1, 1974, in Houston. Colleen Howe was one of the first female sports agents and an advocate for junior hockey.(Associated Press)
Hockey icon Gordie Howe poses with 11-year-old Wayne Gretzky in Brantford, Canada, on May 4, 1972. Gretzky would go on to break many of Howe’s career records.(Associated Press)
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.”
“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:
“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.”