Family concerns

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:56 PM ET

It was noon yesterday when Kevin Lowe talked to Wayne Gretzky about the failing health of his mother Phyllis.

"At the time, he was planning to get the game in,'' said Gretzky's Canadian Olympic Team assistant G.M.

"Obviously he changed his mind and decided to go home.''

Gretzky flew to Brantford, Ont., last night to be with his mom, father Walter and other members of the family at the side of his mother, who has been battling cancer for almost a year.

TOCCHET TAKES HIS PLACE

Appointing Rick Tocchet to take his place behind the bench last night as his Phoenix Coyotes played against the Los Angeles Kings, Gretzky's decision was detailed in a team release.

"We respect and support Wayne's decision,'' said Coyotes GM Mike Barnett, Gretzky's longtime agent dating back to his days with the Edmonton Oilers.

"Family has always come first for the Gretzkys as it should. The thoughts and prayers of the Phoenix Coyotes organization and, most surely, those of the entire hockey world, are with Wayne and the Gretzky family at this most difficult time.''

While there was a suggestion in the initial Associated Press wire service report that "it wasn't clear if Gretzky would retain his status as executive director of Team Canada's Olympic entry in Turin.''

"That is simply not the case,'' Lowe said.

Gretzky, Lowe and the other members of the Team Canada brain trust must announce the final roster of the Olympic team Wednesday.

"Our thoughts and our concerns are for Wayne and his family. The rest we can deal with after, when it's time and when Wayne's dealt with this," Team Canada executive Steve Tambellini said in Vancouver last night.

'VERY CONCERNED'

Gretzky, who led Canada to a first Olympic gold in hockey in 50 years four years ago in Salt Lake, had originally considered heading up last spring's Team Canada entry at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Austria, but decided not to take that job because of the health of his then recently diagnosed mother.

Lowe said when he spoke to Gretzky yesterday and "he was very concerned'' about his mom and was planning to fly to join his family in Brantford immediately following last night's game.

"Obviously it's very serious,'' said Lowe. "All our thoughts are with the entire Gretzky family. This is a time for hockey to take a back seat.''


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