Gordie Howe made a rare public appearance Friday night when he was honored at the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull and Brett Hull were among the hockey dignitaries who made the trip to honor Howe at the fundraiser, which benefits area recreation programs. It was billed by event organizers as the last public appearance for "Mr. Hockey."
Howe, who had at least one stroke last year and suffers from dementia, did not take part in the morning press conference but was able to appear at the dinner. He smiled as he made his way through a hotel lobby on his way to the event.
There were chants of "Gordie! Gordie!" as he went to the stage after the announcement was made that one of the rinks in Saskatoon is being renamed the Gordie Howe Kinsman Arena, according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com.
"There's nothing that you cannot say good about Gordie Howe," said Gretzky, the keynote speaker. "That's the bottom line. He's just a wonderful hockey player, a tremendous father, and a great person."
According to son Mark Howe, the transit from Texas, where his father is living with family members, to Saskatoon on Thursday took close to 12 hours because of mechanical issues with one of the planes involved, as well as other related delays. Gordie Howe was accompanied on that journey by his son Murray.
Gordie Howe has made significant improvement since undergoing stem-cell treatment in Mexico last month. Mark Howe said before the trip to Mexico, his father had almost completely shut down, but after agreeing to the stem-cell treatments, the change was almost immediate.
Gordie Howe, 86, grew up in Floral, Saskatchewan. He was the most dominant player of his era, blending elite offensive skills with a ferocious physical presence to become the prototypical power forward. From 1946-71, Howe played right wing for the Detroit Red Wings, setting numerous NHL records and playing on four Stanley Cup-winning teams. He also played in the World Hockey Association, on the same team with sons Mark and Marty, for six seasons before returning to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, his final season.
Gordie Howe's 801 goals rank second in NHL history to Gretzky's 894, and Howe holds the records for most games played (1,767) and seasons played (26).
Gretzky, who idolized Howe as a youngster, brought his sons from sunny California to the snow and cold of Saskatoon for the event.
"I wanted my boys to be here to see how special Gordie is and how important he was to me in my life," Gretzky said at the morning press conference, when he joked about the change in weather by saying it would have been better if Mr. Hockey could have been born in Mexico instead.