Earlier in the day, at a media conference prior to the dinner, Gretzky spoke of how he idolized Howe as a young boy and met the man in 1972 when the hockey star visited Gretzky's hometown of Brantford, Ont.
The encounter, when Gretzky was 10, exceeded his expectations. It also generated a favoured photograph.
"We were standing there, Gordon grabbed his stick, actually put it around my throat," Gretzky recalled. "It went on to be one of the most popular pictures I've ever signed."
Gretzky also remembered that his mother bought him a suit for the meeting.
"Looking at the picture, I always thought the same thought: that he was nicer and bigger and better when I met him than what I thought he was going to be," Gretzky said. "So every time I look at the picture or sign the picture, it's nothing but great memories."
On ice together years later
Gretzky also shared a story from 1978, when the two of them were on the ice as competitors in the WHA, the upstart league that was later subsumed in a merger with the NHL.
"In the first period I stole the puck from him," Gretzky said. "And all of a sudden, I got a whack."
Gretzky smiled as he recalled Howe's aggressive move to regain control of the puck, which the veteran did.
"So that was my introduction to Gordie's elbows," he added with a chuckle.Suggest a correction