Gordie Howe was the greatest hockey player of his generation

Gordie Howe was one of those few players of his era who could pretty much do it all. Charles Hoff/NY Daily News/Getty Images

Gordie Howe never took anything for granted. Not his place in hockey history. Not his place on the Detroit Red Wings' roster.

For 25 seasons, he was the face of the Red Wings, and former teammate Ted Lindsay doesn't remember a training camp in which Howe wasn't fighting for his job.

"He was always worried about making the team," Lindsay said. "It was a tough job for the guy playing on the wing in training camp. This guy was fighting for his position."

Howe was humble. On the ice, he could be mean. And when he finished his career, Lindsay said Mr. Hockey's place was at the top.

"He's the greatest hockey player who ever played," Lindsay said. "That includes all of them."

On Friday, Howe died at age 88.

He died more than four decades after playing his last game for the Red Wings, 36 years after his final NHL action, with his impact on the game undisputed. He won six Hart Trophies, six Art Ross Trophies and, most importantly, four Stanley Cups.

His professional playing career spanned six decades. He finished with 801 career regular-season goals, a total topped by only Wayne Gretzky. His 1,850 regular-season points was another mark that Gretzky broke.

"Gordie, what he did for the game of hockey and the passion and spirit he played the game with, was just amazing," Gretzky told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun in an interview before Howe's death.

Howe was a dominant player in an NHL that no longer exists. He created space on the ice through any means possible, legal or illegal.

Lindsay remembered one player on the New York Rangers harassing Howe during a game at Olympia Stadium in the 1950s.

"I said, 'Why don't you get rid of that SOB?'" Lindsay recalled.

The next period, Lindsay looked out on the ice, and there was the Rangers winger on the ice, out cold.

"Nobody saw it happen. No penalty. The referee was down on the other end," Lindsay said. "Nobody bothered [Howe] too much. He enforced himself."

As Howe gained experience, he got even more proactive.

When sons Mark and Marty Howe played with him in the World Hockey Association with the Houston Aeros, Marty noticed that the player lining across from Gordie always got a whack across the head with the stick early on in the game.

"Every time we played a new team, whoever he lined up against, I felt sorry for," Marty Howe told ESPN.com last year. "Guys are lining up for the faceoff and they're 10 feet away. He was getting what he wanted. He was getting room."

Gordie Howe's ability to create his own room with his ferocious style of play defined him on the ice. His class and humility defined him off it.

Howe had a moment for everybody, whether it was a fan waiting in line for an autograph or a kid who would go on to be the best scorer of all time.

"A lot of times when you meet your idols and people you respect and look up to, sometimes it's not as great as you had anticipated or you built it up too much. I was so lucky when I met Gordie," Gretzky said. "I was 10. It was so much nicer and bigger and better than I had ever imagined it. To this day, when people come up to me that talk about having done a book report or speech about me, I always talk about the time that my fondest memory in public school was writing a book report on Gordie Howe."

His impact on the Red Wings laid the foundation to the franchise's becoming one of the most storied and successful franchises in all of sports. His 786 goals with the Red Wings remains the franchise record. So does his 1,808 points. Only Bob Probert and Joe Kocur compiled more than Howe's 1,643 penalty minutes with the Red Wings.

"When you look at the history of the Detroit Red Wings, they started in 1926. There are three players who are distinctly at the top, and then there is a mammoth drop-off," said Red Wings senior vice president and Hall of Famer Jimmy Devellano. "The first one is Gordie Howe, the second one is Steve Yzerman and the third one is Nicklas Lidstrom. They all won Cups. They were all captains. They were all the best players. In Howe's case, for many, many years he was the best player in the entire league. Who plays for one team for a quarter century? That's how good he was. That's probably what defines him."

At least as a hockey player.

His wife, Colleen, had a rule when they were raising their children: Hockey stays beyond the garage door.

When he was at home, he was husband and father first. Talk to any of his sons -- Marty, Mark or Murray -- or his daughter, Cathy, and the humble, family-first attitude has survived.

"For me, he's just Dad," Cathy said. "He's the guy who said, 'No dates until I meet this guy. Be home at 11. What does your report look like?' When he came through the door, it was never about what I'm doing, what I've accomplished."

To Mark, who joined his father in hockey's Hall of Fame in 2011, that's the legacy.

"He's just a down-to-earth human being who happened to play hockey," Mark Howe said last year.

"He's just a wonderful man," Gretzky said, "and was wonderful for the game."