Wayne Gretzky: 'Everything I did was to be a Red Wing, and to be around Gordie Howe'

Posted at 1:36 PM, Jun 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-14 14:14:40-04

Wayne Gretzky stood on a platform in the Red Wings zamboni tunnel on Tuesday, wearing a dark suit and a No. 9 lapel pin.

The 'Great One' spent 15 minutes telling reporters why his hero was the greatest to ever play the game of hockey, and why befriending him was the greatest gift of his career.

"He was the greatest hockey player who ever lived, and happened to be the nicest man I've ever met," he said.

Gretzky spent the morning with Gordie Howe's family, celebrating the life of the Hall of Famer, who died last Friday.

He helped carry Howe's casket into Joe Louis Arena with the Howe brothers, baseball Hall of Famer Al Kaline, and others who were close to the legend.

"I made no secret about it. My childhood dream was to play for the Red Wings. Somehow in my mind I figured I'd wear No. 9. Obviously that's not possible. Nobody's ever gonna wear his number," Gretzky recalled.

"Everything I did was to be a Red Wing, and to be around Gordie Howe, and Gordie Howe's world. That was all I dreamed about as a youngster."

He said as a kid, he would ask his barber for 'a Gordie Howe haircut.'

"Still to this day, my favorite Christmas ever was getting a No. 9 Red Wings jersey when I was five years old. That's still the best Christmas present I ever got."

Admiration for Howe started on the ice, but Gretzky explained how he watched Howe treat people, and the way he acted off the ice shaped his real admiration for the man.

"My wife and I have met the pope, but being a part of the procession was one of the great honors of my life."

Gretzky called Howe a second father, and didn't hold back his pride in being Mr. Hockey's friend.

"He was everything to me," he said.

When it comes to a proper tribute from the NHL, Gretzky said he's not involved with the league, but retiring No. 9 across the league is something he'd like to see.

"Hockey's not going to be the same. The world's not going to be the same without Gordie," he said.

Brad Galli is a sports anchor and reporter for WXYZ Detroit. Follow Brad on Twitter @BradGalli