If there’s one person who can give some great perspective on Gordie Howe’s impact on the sport of hockey, it’s Wayne Gretzky.
On Saturday, Gretzky published a first-person essay on TIME.com called “Gordie Howe Was My Idol.” The NHL’s all-time leading scorer discusses his relationship with Howe, and the tribute also features several great anecdotes.
Gretzky begins by telling stories of how much he idolized Howe growing up. He said his “first great Christmas present” was a Howe jersey. Gretzky also says he got to meet and take a picture with Howe when he was 11 years old.
Gordie Howe poses with 11-year-old Wayne Gretzky: pic.twitter.com/GN1ZuIjPWo
— SI Vault (@si_vault) June 10, 2016
From there, Gretzky breaks down his first time playing against Howe.
“It was 1978, and I was playing for the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA. Gordie played for the New England Whalers. Gordie blinked an awful lot. During warmups, I thought he was winking at me to wish me good luck. I was quite wrong about that. In the first period, I stole the puck from him and was skating the other way. Suddenly, I felt a good whack. He hit me and stole the puck back. He said, ‘Don’t you ever take the puck from me.’ I said, ‘All right. It will never happen again.’”
By the final few paragraphs, Gretzky’s words become much more sentimental.
“In October of 1989, when I was fortunate enough to break his all-time scoring record, Gordie said after the game that becoming my friend was one of the better things that happened to him in hockey. For my idol to say something so meaningful to me, in that moment, speaks to who he was as a person. So unselfish, graceful and gracious.”
One of the great things about old-time hockey players is their ability to break out great old stories. This has proven true over the past few days while those who played with, covered, watched and otherwise met Howe remember him.