It's coach Gretzky

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

At least he didn't stand there, start to choke up, back away from the microphones, dab a tear and say "I promised Mess I wouldn't do this."

On the other hand, coach Wayne Gretzky, for the longest time there, didn't come across as somebody thrilled beyond belief to be entering a new chapter of his life. Coach Gretzky kept repeating that he was excited, but it took a while in his press conference, televised not only live in Canada but on ESPN in the U.S., for his way to match his words.

"I'm really excited about it. I'm really excited to be back in the dressing room and back on the ice. That's what I love the most and I'm thrilled to be back on the hot seat. I'm looking forward to it," he said with no sense of any of that at all in his voice, in his expression or in his body language.

Coach Gretzky. Why is that so hard to say? And why is it so hard to believe that The Great One could be a great hockey coach?

It wasn't until Gretzky started to deal with all that that he started to show any sort of sign that there was really some fire in his belly to do this, to become the new head coach of the Coyotes. Not for his owner or for the league that gave him everything and the part he could play to bring the game back, but for Wayne Gretzky himself.

That's when anybody who knows Gretzky saw something that finally made it possible to at least consider getting at least a little bit excited for him. That's when those of us who were around him at the beginning found our ears begin to perk.

KIND OF IRONIC

"It's kind of ironic that when I broke into professional hockey at 17 I was told that I was too small and too slow and I wouldn't make the NHL.

"Now it's kind of flip flopped and the sense is I can't be a good coach because I was a great athlete. I wasn't naturally gifted with size and speed. Everything I did in hockey I worked for and that's the way it will be as a coach. I will work hard and prepare hard.

"I've heard people say 'Why do this?' My answer is 'Why not?' One reason I'm doing this is my love for hockey. I wanted to be in the game. Simple as that. I wanted to feel the energy and the excitement again, of competing.

"I believe I'm going to be a good coach. Of course, the more games behind the bench, the more experience you're going to get."

Gretzky says his biggest belief is in common sense and working hard together as a team. And expect him to be emotional behind the bench, he says. "You have to have emotion. That's the way I played. That's the way I'll be behind the bench."

Owner Steve Ellman began the conference by saying he was "proud to announce our sport's greatest player, ambassador and icon" as coach and that the entire world would now be convinced the Coyotes were going for the Stanley Cup.

I still say this is all about the Coyotes having nothing else to sell as they go forward as a franchise very much on the endangered species list after a year without hockey.

Gretzky did deal with that. Sort of.

"I have an investment in (the) team, an ownership stake in (the) team and I thought I was the best person to coach this team," he said.

Gretzky also mentioned the need "to sell more tickets and make corporate sponsors happy." And he did mention that hockey is coming back with the need, in many markets, to sell itself again. "We did miss a year and have to win some people back."

There were places there to read a lot into things if you wanted to. "I didn't really call anybody for advice on it. I knew it was a decision I had to make. Over the last few months I've been leaning more and more to stepping in and taking on this opportunity.

'MOST FUN I'VE HAD'

"At the Kentucky Derby I spent a couple days with Pat Riley. The most fun I've had had been coaching my son's baseball team and being involved in that," he said.

A cynic would say, gee, a basketball coach told him coaching is fun and he had fun coaching his kid's baseball team so ...

But again, it came back to one thing: Never tell Wayne Gretzky he can't do something.

You'll never read that in this column.


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