Gretzky hangs tough

Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky watches play during NHL exhibition action last night. (Sun Media/Jason...

Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky watches play during NHL exhibition action last night. (Sun Media/Jason Halstead)

KEN WIEBE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:17 PM ET

Wayne Gretzky doesn't look or sound like someone who is ready to give up on coaching anytime soon.

Granted, the Great One is only heading into his third season as the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes but a lesser man might have waved the white flag and moved on with life after hockey.

In two seasons under Gretzky's guidance, the Coyotes are 65-85-10 and missed the playoffs twice.

"It was really tough. If you're not competitive and you don't like to win, then it's easy," said Gretzky. "When you want to want to win and understand winning is what it's all about, then it's awfully difficult. It's more fun coaching when you're winning a lot more. It's a lot easier as a player worrying about one person than being a coach and worrying about 25 guys.

"You know what. It's enjoyable. I love the game and I love to be part of it. I've enjoyed it immensely. I love everything about the game. To be part of the action and be part of the outcome of the game, that's exciting."

What was the biggest lesson Gretzky learned during the first two seasons behind the bench?

"The biggest thing is that each and every player is different -- and I understood that as a player," he said. "As a player and especially as a captain, it's your responsibility to make every person -- whether he plays one minute a game or he's a Hall of Famer -- feel part of the team and feel that we can't win without him.

"As a coach, some guys you've got to be harder on or some guys you've got to be more sympathetic to. You've got to push guys, be encouraging to guys. You're sort of looking at and treating every player differently."

But is Gretzky feeling any additional pressure?

"Every day for Wayne Gretzky is always the same," he explained. "There's pressure on me to be successful. Nobody understands that or realizes that more than I do."

A quick glance at the Coyotes' projected roster leads many to believe it could be another long season ahead for Gretzky and company, but Gretzky was preaching patience yesterday.

"Obviously, people are excited but we realize and understand we've got a lot of work to do as an organization," he said. "We understand it's not going to be a sprint, it's a marathon and we understand it's not going to change overnight. We've got a lot of good pieces to the puzzle right now and we've got a lot of good young kids. The key to success is that you've got to get more talent each and every year."

As for the uphill battle the Coyotes have in trying to get on the radar in Arizona, Gretzky showcased his sense of humour.

"Our problem is that the best team athlete in North America (Steve Nash) is a Canadian but he happens to be playing basketball in Phoenix and not ice hockey," said Gretzky, noting he sent Nash a pair of skates last Christmas. "Our competition in that town is tough. The (NFL) Cardinals are an improved team with a new stadium. The Phoenix Suns are an outstanding organization and a great team.

"You can play golf or you can lay around the pool every day."

Coyotes captain Shane Doan believes hockey could catch on in the desert, provided one important thing happens.

"We have a decent base, but we haven't won and realistically that's what it comes down to," said Doan. "Four or five years ago, you couldn't give away a Suns ticket and now they're winning and you can't buy one.

"We were out-drawing the Suns and it wasn't even close. Now they're the hottest ticket in town. Phoenix is like that. When you win, everyone will support you."


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