Great One's front row

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

If Wayne Gretzky wasn't in Edmonton on business anyway, he would have taken the day off work to be here.

No way in the world he was going to let them retire Paul Coffey's number, pay tribute to a great friend and teammate, without a front row seat.

"I really wouldn't want it any other way," he said of the circumstances that allowed he and his Phoenix Coyotes to be in town for the big night. "If we were playing a game in another NHL city I would have made arrangements to be here.

"One of the things we have as a group is we like to support each other, whether it's my retirement and Paul being there or Paul's retirement and me being here. I would have found a way to be here.

"It's an exciting time and a great moment in Oilers history. I'm going to cherish it."

Fellow Hall of Famer Jari Kurri felt the exact same way, taking time off from Finnish Olympic team scouting in New York to be here.

"It was a great day, clear sky, and flying in (from New York) brought me a lot of memories of the first time I came to Edmonton 25 years ago," said Kurri, who mixed business with pleasure by getting a close look at Finnish keeper Jussi Markkanen.

"Every time you come back here you feel like you haven't left."

Seeing Coffey choke back the tears brought back a lot of the same emotions from Kurri's retirement night in 2001.

"It's not an easy spot," he said. "You think you're all relaxed and as soon as you step on the ice you're history. But I enjoyed it a lot, being part of the celebration."

It's so comfortable when the gang gets back together, Kurri even managed to get in a good-natured jab.

"How Charlie Huddy passed the puck to Coffey in the ceremony wasn't good," chuckled Kurri, who roofed a snap shot when 99 set him up for the last time in 2001. "I had a better passer."

As for Gretzky the coach, his own homecoming party had a happy ending as the Coyotes swept through Alberta, shutting the Flames out 2-0 on Monday and edging the Oilers 4-3 last night in overtime.

Of course, that shouldn't come as any surprise. He always won here.

"I wish I could still be playing, it's more fun than standing on the bench," he grinned. "But it was enjoyable for me tonight."

And not just because he won in Edmonton.

"Every game that you win is a great thing, tonight is no different," he said. "It doesn't matter where we play, I like to win."

But competing in Edmonton, he admits, is special. "How can you not get excited to play hockey in Edmonton," said Gretzky, who looked like a natural behind the bench, and showed some of his competitive fire when he lit into the referees after Michael Peca ran one of his players in the second period.

"This is hockey as far as I'm concerned. I haven't been in the game here since 1999, other than enjoying the game from a suite. Now to be in the actual action, I'm really relishing it. I'm enjoying it tremendously."

Gretzky said a lot of what he knows about coaching was gleaned from those early days when Glen Sather ran the room.

"I was explaining to a couple of my players the other day, I was kind of hard on them, I said I want you to know that I got it as bad or worse than anybody from Glen. But Glen just wanted to make me better and make the team better.

"He was not only like a coach to these guys, but like a father to most of us. He was pretty special in our lives."


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