Sticking it to Gretzky

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

Richard Nairn thought his days as a travelling member of an NHL organization were behind him. And then Wayne Gretzky came down from the owner's box.

So it's "on the road again" for the former media and public relations director of the Winnipeg Jets.

"I'm going to all the games, because of him," the Winnipeg-born Nairn was saying yesterday from Phoenix. "It's crazy, every day."

Not that he's complaining.

As vice-president of communications for the Coyotes, Nairn's duties include being Gretzky's handler when it comes to media requests.

That ranges from a daily barrage of requests to the "controlled chaos" that ensues when the Coyotes and their world-famous head coach/owner venture north of the border.

"He's awesome to work with," Nairn said. "But the requests don't stop. It's daily. And of course it's a press conference everywhere you go in Canada."

Nairn's re-baptism into the daily grind of media relations got off to a rousing start, too, with a season-opening trip to Vancouver for Todd Bertuzzi's first game back from suspension, followed by trips to Calgary and Edmonton, where the Oilers retired Paul Coffey's jersey.

Of course, Nairn used to visit those cities with the Jets all the time. Back then, Gretzky was, all too often, causing him other kinds of problems.

In fact, the Great One, mostly as a member of the Oilers, was a thorn in Nairn's and every Jets fan's side for years, a fact Nairn has pointed out to Gretzky more than once.

"I've told him a bunch of times how many playoff games I was at as a fan, and how he used to always kill us," Nairn said. "But he just kind of laughs at it.

'Dream come true'

"It's a dream come true, working with Wayne. I mean, I grew up idolizing the guy, although he always used to kill us. He's an even better person when you get to meet him. It's a thrill to work for him as a coach, on a daily basis."

Even if it means living out of a suitcase now and again.

As for the Coyotes, Nairn reports the team is enjoying pretty solid fan support in the wake of the lockout, selling out two games in the 17,799-seat Glendale Arena and averaging some 14,000 for the other four at home.

"It's good for October," he said. "There's so many other options and things going on. And the weather's still 80 degrees. We're doing well, but it's in the playoffs where you make your revenue.

"We have a solid base, and it's continuing to grow. Obviously, we want to increase those numbers. but we have a great, loyal fan base that supports our team, and we hope to increase that every year we play."

Of course, everyone loves a winner, and the Coyotes sit in last place in the Pacific Division going into tonight's home game against Los Angeles.

The Phoenix newspapers reported that Gretzky put the team through a punishing skate on Tuesday, after back-to-back losses dropped the team's record to 5-8-0-1.

If this keeps up, life on the road with the Great One might not be so great anymore.

BACK TO FORM: Winnipegger Mike Leclerc has been a bright light in his first season in the desert.

The winger leads the Coyotes with five goals, and is second with nine points. This, after his 2003-04 season was limited to 10 games with Anaheim because of a serious knee injury that required major surgery.

You had to think if anyone was going to benefit from taking a year off, it would be someone like Leclerc, who played hurt to lead the Mighty Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final at the end of the 2002-03 season.

A 20-goal scorer the year before that, Leclerc seems to back in peak form.


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