Son brightens dark days

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Taking a deep breath before discussing life as coach of a 2-8 hockey team, a worn Wayne Gretzky tried putting his frustrations in layman's terms before last night's game.

"In real life, you go along and some days your son does something really well or your daughter does something well and you get excited and keep going," said the second-year Phoenix Coyotes coach, trying to put mounting losses in perspective.

"In pro hockey, you win and you're on top of the mountain. You lose you're in the bottom of the valley. Right now, we're in the bottom of the valley."

Ah, but just when the look on his 45-year-old face appears it couldn't jam another ounce of consternation into it, the Great One turns into Dad. Once the crowd of media-types disperses, the father of five quietly tells an inquisitive scribe 16-year-old Ty is playing hockey at Minnesota prep school Shattuck-St. Mary's.

"He's been skating for years but it's really his first year on a hockey team," boasts dad of the 5-ft. 11-in., 135-lb. forward who has one goal and two assists in eight games with the midget AA squad. "My son's not a superstar but he's passionate about the game."

And nothing could make dad happier, especially given the fact No. 17 (the jersey numbers only go to 20) is in a place where names aren't worn on the back and the pressure of being a Gretzky is minimized.

Well, sort of.

"Having the name is tough on him -- he's been sheltered a bit on the ice and he's a pretty nice kid," said Gretzky, who lived with Ty in Phoenix last year.

"He has a hard time when, before the first shift of the game, someone will say to him, 'I'm going to knock your head off.' I said, 'Ty, they used to say that to me every game. I reminded him what his grandpa always told me -- it's harder to hit a moving target. Just keep moving.' "

Dad sure did.

Scoffing when asked if his son had any chance of being called up to the AAA squad that has routinely won the Mac's Midget Tourney with names such as Sidney Crosby, Jack Johnson and Zach Parise on it, Gretzky is happy his son is enjoying the game.

"I said, 'If you get homesick, you can come back, but he says, 'Dad I love it,' " beams Gretzky, whose 17-year-old daughter Paulina is recording songs while finishing high school in L.A.

"He knows the game and he's only going to get better.

"It's a good situation, a great school and a great education and he gets to play hockey every day. In Canada at 16, they take your son and say, 'You're done.' And you just watch. At least until he's 18, he can play hockey where he wants.

"Whether he continues after that is up to him."

No pressure.

No expectations.

The same can't be said for his Coyotes, who beefed up in the off-season only to open as the league's most undisciplined team. And they're paying for it.

"Obviously with our record, I haven't learned a damn thing (from last year)," joked Gretzky.

"What's disappointing this year are the expectations of this team and the players we have. We're not Stanley Cup champions right now but we're a much better hockey club than our record indicates. From that standpoint, it's horrible."

There'll be better days, Dad.


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