DETROIT -- The only mistake made along the way before Gordie Howe's appearance at Joe Louis Arena on Monday night was that his son Mark tipped him off the night before.
"I mentioned to him, 'Dad, do you want to go to the Red Wings game tomorrow?' He was so excited," Mark Howe said. "He thought about it all night, was awake all night. We did all we could to get him here. I thought he did well."
Mr. Hockey was presented with a cake and serenaded by a sold-out crowd at Joe Louis Arena for his 88th birthday, which is Thursday.
With about 10 minutes remaining in the first period, Howe made his way down from the owner's suite to the Zamboni entrance, where a cake was waiting for him. Red Wings anthem singer Karen Newman led over 20,000 fans in a rendition of "Happy Birthday" as Howe gave a little wave.
The Red Wings made sure it was a happy birthday for Howe as they held on for a 3-2 victory.
Appearances like this aren't easy for the 87-year-old Howe, who has dementia, but after the outpouring of support the family received following Howe's stroke in October of 2014, they felt it was important for Gordie to be available to the Red Wings fans in Detroit.
"The way we look at it, my mom and dad have always tried to give back as much as they could to this city and the hockey fans and the Red Wings and the City of Detroit," Mark Howe said. "The outpouring of love we received after dad had his stroke was just tremendous."
Gordie Howe's family, including sons Mark and Murray, filled a suite and accompanied him at the game and near the ice as the crowed sang to him for his birthday.
After the singing was over, Gordie Howe sat in the back of a yellow cart and was driven down the hallway, presumably back to his seats. He gave a little wave as his grandson, Travis, and his great granddaughter, Ainsley, followed behind, with 3-year-old Ainsley sporting a Howe jersey she picked up at the alumni outdoor game.
A few minutes later, Mark Howe entered an elevator to rejoin his dad and watch a little hockey with the family, when he was stopped by a fan.
"It's nice to see your father here, Mr. Howe," she said. "He looks wonderful."