'Grumpy One' is no pushover

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

PHOENIX -- If The Great One keeps this up, he'll become known as The Grumpy One.

Wayne Gretzky may be known to millions as the kindly king of Canadian hockey, whose humility and good nature are almost as respected as his status as the NHL's all-time leading scorer and owner of umpteen league records.

But, as the rookie head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, No. 99 is demonstrating another side to his personality:

He can play the heavy.

Proof came a week and a half ago. Unhappy with the performance of his then Pacific Division cellar-dwelling Coyotes, Gretzky arrived one morning and dropped the hammer on his boys.

Following disappointing losses to division rivals Dallas and Anaheim less than a month into the season, he pulled out the big weapon against his underachieving team.

The Coyotes hit the ice for 45 minutes of skating.

Hard skating, with nary a single puck to be found.

Sure, after the skateathon had been completed, the Coyotes practised for another half-hour with biscuits but the message was sent loud and clear.

Even if most people see Gretzky for his amazing ability on the ice and usually soft-spoken personality off it, he can play the grinch, too.

In case anyone had forgotten, underneath that slight frame, still remains the competitive fires that helped an undersized, poor-skating kid become one of the greatest players history has ever seen.

Looks like the not-so-subtle hint was well received, too, seeing as the Desert Dogs headed into last night's clash with the Flames riding a 3-0-1 streak which pulled them to the .500 mark.

The NHL is also taking notice.

When word came out Gretzky was returning to the game as a coach, many people immediately figured it to be a splashy publicity stunt by a downtrodden franchise.

Combine that with the fact Gretzky's official title with the club includes managing partner and alternate governor, skepticism abounded the move was made to protect his investment.

Numbers are bearing out that theory, as well, with attendance up about 1,000 to an average of more than 15,000.

However, Gretzky is proving to be dead serious about his coaching responsibilities. Smartly, he has a coaching staff that includes renowned tactician Barry Smith -- one of Scotty Bowman's right-hand men in Detroit -- Rick Tocchet and Rick Bowness.

But there's no doubt he's the boss, boldly scratching both Mike Ricci and Comrie to great results, as well as publicly calling out his players without fear of any backlash.

Not that it's easy to imagine any of them arguing. Shane Doan said as much after yesterday's morning skate.

With Gretzky to be microphoned during last night's tilt, Doan, who went through the same experience recently, was pressed for any tips he'd give his famous head coach.

"I will never, ever give Wayne Gretzky any advice about hockey," said Doan. "Not ever."


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