Hockey legend, former Whaler, Gordie Howe, dies at age 88

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DETROIT -- "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe, whose career spanned an incredible six decades and included four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, died Friday, Howe's son, Marty Howe, told CNN. He was 88.

The NHL hall-of-famer  had previous health struggles, suffering a "significant" stroke in 2014.

"Thoughts and prayers to the Howe family as Gordie Howe passes away at the age of 88," the Detroit Red Wings tweeted Friday.

Howe also played for the Hartford Whalers for 3 record-breaking season and played there with his two sons. The Howes lived in Glastonbury during their time in Connecticut.

As a six-time league MVP, Howe arguably was one of the sport's greatest players, scoring 801 goals in his 26 years in two different stints in the National Hockey League. In 1963, he became the NHL's all-time leading scorer, a record that was later broken by Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky, in fact, idolized Howe. Howe wore the number 9 when he played. Gretzky wore 99 as tribute to him.

Beyond his reputation as a prolific scorer, Howe was many things. He was feared and revered, famous for his flying elbows. But perhaps, biggest of all, he was an iconic name that a casual and non-hockey fan would know.

Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said Howe "embodied on and off the ice what it meant to be both a Red Wing and a Detroiter. He was tough, skilled, and consistently earned success at the highest level. His achievements are numerous and his accomplishments immeasurable. It is truly a blessing to have had him both in our organization and our city for so many years. He will be deeply missed."

Howe signed his first professional contract at age 18 in 1946 with the Red Wings, where he spent 25 years and won Stanley Cups in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. In 1971, Howe announced his retirement and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame a year later. But just two years after hanging up his skates, Howe returned, playing for the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association. Remarkably, he played with his sons, Marty and Mark.

In 1980, Howe retired for the second time at age 52 after playing for the Hartford Whalers. By the time he retired from the NHL, Howe also would own league records in assists, points and games played. To this day, Howe still holds NHL records for most games played and seasons.

But Howe still wasn't done playing hockey. Seventeen years later, Howe -- then 69 -- put on his skates one more time to play for the IHL's Detroit Vipers.

Howe, born March 31, 1928, was one of nine children. He met his wife, Colleen, in 1949. They were married for 55 years until her death in 2009.

Howe is survived by his four children, Marty, Mark, Cathy and Murray, and nine grandchildren.

"Gordie Howe was an incredible ambassador for the game of hockey," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "He was as fierce and competitive as they come but away from the rink he was truly engaging and personable and always enjoyed his interaction with the fans. ... We will miss Mr. Hockey, who was the greatest Red Wing of all time."