Mr. Hockey hams it up at 85th birthday party

March 2, 2013, 1:27 AM

THE CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER — Gordie Howe proved on Friday that he can still draw a crowd.

And it takes a vintage truck to transport his birthday cake.

Former NHL stars and hockey fans young and old alike paid tribute Friday night to Howe during a celebration of his upcoming 85th birthday. Mr. Hockey was feted prior to a Western Hockey League game between the host Vancouver Giants, of which he is a minority owner, and the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

The former NHLers included icon Bobby Hull and his brother Dennis, Marcel Dionne, Orland Kurtenbach, Charlie Hodge and Johnny Bower, who is also in his mid-80s. They participated in a brief pre-game ceremony during which Howe’s birthday cake, bearing his famous No. 9 on the back of a gold-coloured truck, rolled onto the ice.

Pop star Michael Buble, also a Giants minority owner, got in on the party by leading the crowd of 6,000-8,000 in singing "Happy Birthday" to Howe, who will turn 85 on March 31. Howe sang along before he capped the festivities by dropping the puck during the ceremonial face-off.

Howe and the former stars posed for pictures with hundreds of fans during the first intermission, who ranged from young childen to 84-year-old Joan Smythe of Delta, B.C.

Smythe, whose husband was a cousin of legendary Toronto Maple Leafs icon Conn Smythe, said she waited many years to finally meet, and get a photo of Howe.

As the game continued into the second period, fans continued to line up for the chance to get pictures of Mr. Hockey. While other icons like Bower and Kurtenbach headed back to their box seats, he continued to ham it up for his faithful followers.

Kurtenbach, a former Vancouver Canucks captain and coach, said he will remember the occasion forever.

Howe, who has been dealing with cognitive impairment in recent years, never said a word publicly, but nobody seemed to mind.

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