Coaching a real possibility

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Coach Gretzky?

Why not? He has done everything else.

The Great One hit town yesterday and he sure was welcome. He made it feel a bit more like winter.

Wayne Gretzky was a pretty fair player in his day, and his time as an executive have been equally well spent. You may remember Gretzky steered Team Canada to Olympic gold at Salt Lake and a win at this summer's World Cup of Hockey.

Let's see, superstar player. Check.

Owner of the Phoenix Coyotes. Check.

Architect of Canada's return to the pinnacle of men's hockey. Check.

Guess that leaves coaching.

Gretzky enjoyed working with Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn and watching the machinations of team building at the World Cup. When former Ottawa Senators coach Jacques Martin opted to work with Mike Keenan in Miami instead of Gretzky in Phoenix, Gretzky and his longtime buddy, Coyotes general manager Mike Barnett, decided to leave the chair vacant.

Hey, you never know.

"Mike asked me to coach, I guess that's how the story got started," Gretzky said yesterday.

The story has legs.

"I haven't said no. At this point in time, it's not on my priority list of things to think about other than than to say I haven't turned it down."

God bless him, Wayne Gretzky wouldn't trap.

"I look at the success of the Calgary Flames and the Tampa Bay Lighting. They were two of the best defensive teams in the league. They sent one or two guys after the puck."

And this is why you have to love Wayne Gretzky. At the end of the day, he isn't a millionaire who used to be a hockey player. He's a hockey player who's now a millionaire.

It is, I think, the principal difference between Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Lemieux owns the Pittsburgh Penguins because his money is tied into the club. Gretzky needs the game, almost as much as the game needs him.

It shows in Gretzky's grasp of problems. Most of us point to NHL coaches as the propagators of stifling defensive schemes. Gretzky sees a minor hockey system that has spread the affliction through the game.

"Improving the game has to start in minor hockey," he said. "You have 10-year-olds being taught the left-wing lock and 12-year-olds being taught the trap."

Gretzky was here in support of a charitable endeavour through Hockey Canada.

A GIFT

Based on a 250-word essay submitted to Hockey Canada (www.hockeycanada.ca), 13 Canadian teams will be chosen to receive a gift of Team Canada jerseys, gloves, sticks and $1,000.

That was about all the good tidings he was bringing.

Gretzky always saw more than anyone else on the ice. Now, his gaze rests on the same desolate landscape we all see. He seems resigned to a season lost to the lockout.

"It looks very bleak," he said. "There's no talking and when there's no conversation, obviously, there's no hockey."


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