SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Two of the biggest stars playing in the Stanley Cup finals -- Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and San Jose's Joe Thornton -- both had the honor of meeting Gordie Howe early in their hockey careers, and the moment left a lasting impact.
In his first or second season in the NHL, Crosby met Howe in Detroit and said he was in awe of Howe, who died Friday morning.
"You don't even know what to say," Crosby said after Saturday's practice. "When you think of hockey, that's what you think of. You think of Gordie Howe -- the way he played, the way he conducted himself. He was a role model for a lot of people, including myself."
Crosby has often been the face of the NHL during his career and said he learned from guys like Howe and Wayne Gretzky on how an NHL star conducts himself.
"That's who sets the example. The guys that played before set the example," Crosby said. "[It's] not just the hockey players, the people. That's what's so special."
Thornton was a young teenager the first time he met Howe, also in Detroit.
"Just a huge thrill, bigger-than-life personality and player," Thornton said. "When you meet a guy like that, you don't know what to expect. He met all my expectations and more. Just a great man."
Thornton has a couple of Gordie Howe hat tricks on his résumé, a performance of which he's proud. The Gordie Howe hat trick is defined as having a goal, an assist and a fight in one game.
"It's a big accomplishment. Not too many times throughout your career you get a goal, assist and fight," Thornton said. "You get one of those, you're pretty proud of it."