Bench boss is lovin' it

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Wayne Gretzky sounds like somebody who's going to be behind an NHL bench for a long time.

Going into his second season as a head coach, Gretzky says he hasn't had this much fun since he was playing.

"It's more fun now for me as an older person than it used to be," he said. "Although you never replace being a player. Being a player in this game is the greatest thing in the world for anybody that plays hockey. The next best thing to being a player is coaching. I enjoy it tremendously.

"It's one thing to watch things up top. But I found my enjoyment is to be on the bench, to be in the game itself."

The Coyotes finished Gretzky's rookie season one game under .500, missing the playoffs.

But the most recognizable coach in hockey says they're better this year -- and so is he.

"Last year was obviously a learning experience for me," he said. "I've never been a coach before, although many times people have told me I coached the team I was on, so maybe I have a little bit of a leg up.

I don't know any other way than the way I played. And I played with a great deal of emotion, and I played with a great deal of pride. And I worked hard every day and every game. I don't know any other way than to coach with my heart."

BIG PAYDAY: Want to know what it would take to have an NHL team again?

How does a cool $1 million per game sound?

That was the approximate gate revenue from last night's exhibition game between the Coyotes and Oilers, matching some of the richest concerts the downtown arena has hosted.

Charging an average of $70-$75 per ticket, True North Sports and Entertainment drew a sellout crowd of 15,015, making the event the highest-grossing hockey game held in the two-year-old facility.

That's the kind of crowd it would take, at similar prices, every game, to make a big-league team viable here.

The response has True North Officials contemplating a return engagement next September. Or, they could skip a year, and keep the demand high.

"You never want to tire the market out," True North president/CEO Jim Ludlow said last night. "It's like with any show."

The profits from last night's game were split between True North and the Coyotes, with Phoenix taking a slightly larger share.

The Coyotes also donated $50,000 to KidSport, a local charity.

CURSE OF PORTAGE AND MAIN? Some things never change.

Ex-Jet Shane Doan pointed out two annoying recurrences, as he returned to Winnipeg for the first time in a decade.

"Portage and Main is still a little windy," the Phoenix captain commented.

His other deja vu was equally unpleasant, albeit hockey related.

"And I haven't made it out of the first round of the playoffs, yet," Doan said.

TOO LATE: The last word goes to Phoenix defenceman Ed Jovanovski, commenting on the fact the game was a sellout.

"Wish that could have happened 10 years ago, no?" Jovanovski said.

It certainly wouldn't have hurt.


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