Although his time throwing elbows and scoring goals for the Detroit Red Wings is over, Gordie Howe, also known as 'Mr. Hockey,' continues to be a huge force in the community, raising money for Alzheimer's research. In 2004, his wife Colleen lost her battle with dementia, an event that inspired the Howe family to become active in the fight against Alzheimer's. Howe has teamed up with Scotiabank to host the second annual Pro-Am tournament in Calgary April 13-15, 2012. Mark Napier, nhl Alumni president, said the over $60 million raised for Alzheimer's disease in the last seven years has been a huge success. "It's pretty special to have Gordie's name and his wife Colleen -- he wanted to keep it in honour of her name," said Napier. "Toronto raised $860,000, Calgary raised over a million and Edmonton under a million for first-time tournaments."
Originally established by the Baycrest Foundation, the tournament is a weekend-long event for nhl alumni -- it's a chance for players to relive memories from their careers and share them with others. Teams raise money to draft their favourite nhl alumnus -- Theo Fleury, Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams were among players drafted last year.
"We have the draft party here [in Calgary] when players spend time with their team. You end up with three games and the top-fundraising team gets more. The most fun part is the beer and chicken wings after and it's funny watching 60 guys being mesmerized," said Napier.
Mr. Hockey was at an event in Calgary on Nov. 4 promoting the tournament. "People still come up in the airport wanting to get his autograph. One guy went in the gift shop to get hats for him to sign and in the hotel people come up and talk to him -- it must get pretty special for him at 84-years-old to still be so well-known," said Napier.
Howe set the record for most games played, 1,767, and most games played with a single team -- the Red Wings -- with 1,687.
"With the help of Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel, I made the front line of Detroit and got myself in a position where you're called upon and it's the nicest feeling in the world," said Howe. "If I hit [someone], and there weren't helmets when it started, cuts around the eye and cheekbone were common," said Howe. He mentioned that concussions are a dangerous reality of hockey today, but were even more so during his career from 1946-80 when helmets were not required in the NHL. "The best rule that they made was that the stick couldn't come above the shoulders and I felt sorry for the shorter guys," said Howe.
Alzheimer's has taken a lot of lives and research is ongoing -- it is through fundraising efforts, like the Pro-Am tournaments, that finding a cure is possible. According to the Alzheimer's Society, around 40,000 people in Alberta live with dementia and 17 per cent are diagnosed under the age of 65.
"There are more Canadians going to be exposed to Alzheimer's and dementia," said Frank King, tournament chair. "You do need something to attract people to the cause. Gordie Howe is Mr. Hockey -- he is so well-known and is delighted to help with this cause. We had 15 teams and raised over $1 million in Calgary and expect to raise $1.6 million this year."