Gretz sells Cujo on Phoenix

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

KELOWNA, B.C. -- Curtis Joseph is exactly the goaltender Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky wanted.

"We're thrilled to have him," said Gretzky yesterday. "He brings us a guy with dignity who plays hard and practises hard and pushes other guys in our locker room."

Joseph had offers from other teams, but finally settled with Phoenix on a one-year deal that will pay him $900,000 US, but could end up closer $2.25 million if he cashes all the bonuses.

Even though Coyotes general manager Mike Barnett did the signing, it was Gretzky who did the legwork. He called Joseph twice and convinced him to join the Coyotes.

"At the beginning, he wasn't sure where his mind was at or where he was going to go," Gretzky said.

The problem was that Joseph wasn't sure he wanted to play in Phoenix while his family is based in Toronto.

"But I talked to him and I told him honestly," Gretzky said. "He wasn't sure about his family situation. I told him that there are times in the season that if he needs to go home and visit his family for a few days, then we'll bend over backward to make sure that happens.

"I want him to be comfortable and feel comfortable in Phoenix and I think he will. I think it will be great for him."

The Coyotes have goaltender Brian Boucher on the roster and Gretzky sees Joseph's presence as good for both men,

"Curtis and Boucher will push each other," he said. "My goal is to win games and if a guy is playing well, I'll go with the goaltender who is playing well. I expect Cujo to battle for that job and compete for the No. 1 position as I expect Bouch to do that."

Gretzky was running the 2002 Olympic team when Joseph lost the starting goaltending spot to Martin Brodeur.

"When he didn't play in '02, he was disappointed," Gretzky recalled, "but he was disappointed for the right reasons. He wanted to compete. He wanted to be in the net. It just didn't work out that way.

"There are good ways to handle that and there are bad ways to handle that. He handled himself very well. He was very positive in the locker room but obviously very disappointed. He wanted to be the starting goalie and that's what makes guys superstars. They want to be the guy."


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