02/06/2015 09:33 EST | Updated 04/08/2015 05:59 EDT

Gordie Howe tribute: Gretzky, NHL greats hold news conference

Wayne Gretzky and other NHL greats held a news conference ahead of Friday night's tribute dinner in honour of Gordie Howe, who's expected to make a rare public appearance in his hometown of Saskatoon.

Howe, 86, was not involved in the morning news conference, but "Mr. Hockey" is set to attend the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner to raise money for community programs.

Hockey Hall of Famers Bobby Hull and Brett Hull were among the stars taking part in the festivities, along with Howe's sons Mark and Marty 

"We're all excited to be part of it," said Gretzky, who idolized Howe as a boy before breaking many of his NHL scoring records.

"It's going to be a wonderful night... It's something he deserves. He's a really good man."

It will be a rare public appearance for Howe, who suffers from dementia and had at least one stroke late last year. He has been recovering at his daughter's home in Texas.

Marty Howe said his father's health has improved after he underwent stem-cell treatment in Mexico.

"He went form not being able to move his arms and not being able to walk, to being able to stand up in nine hours," Marty Howe said.

The family suffered another blow last week when Vic Howe, Gordie's brother and a former NHLer, died.

Mark Howe said his dad has been more emotional than usual in recent months.

"I've watched him cry. You don't see Gordie Howe cry."