DETROIT — They came by the thousands to honor Gordie Howe, but this time they did it with silence instead of cheers.
Four days after Howe died at 88, hockey fans streamed somberly into a darkened Joe Louis Arena to say goodbye to Mr. Hockey, the prolific goal-scorer who played here for a quarter-century, made the Detroit Red Wings a dynasty in the 1950s and is considered by many to be the greatest player hockey has ever known.
Red Wings faithful waited an hour or more to reach the arena floor, where they proceeded down a red carpet to Howe’s brown, closed coffin, which was topped and flanked by large arrangements of roses — red, of course.
In what is normally one of the most raucous arenas in the N.H.L., the only background noise was the murmur of hushed voices.
“I just keep losing it,” said Paul Bigler, 54, tears streaming down his cheeks, a white Howe jersey hanging from his burly frame. He said he grew up watching Howe and attending Red Wings games with his father.
Now living in Knoxville, Tenn., Bigler drove 10 hours to pay his last respects to his idol.
“He was just the epitome of what every kid wanted to be,” Bigler said.
That was a view that was shared by Wayne Gretzky, the superstar who broke Howe’s goal-scoring and points records and served as a pallbearer in a private ceremony at Joe Louis Arena before the doors were opened to the public.
“Canada has lost a really good person,” Gretzky said. “He never asked for anything from anybody, but he would do anything for anyone.”
The event was attended by Howe’s three sons, Mark, Marty and Murray, and his daughter, Cathy, as well as the former Red Wings Steve Yzerman and Kris…