Canucks ready for desert dogs

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

Hockey history will be made in Vancouver tonight when the National Hockey League returns after a season cancelled by labour strife.

All 30 teams will be in action around the continent on the busiest opening night in league history, which climaxes with the Phoenix Coyotes and their rookie head coach Wayne Gretzky meeting the Vancouver Canucks at General Motors Place.

"The first game has its excitement, regardless of who you're playing," Canuck Trevor Linden said. "To have his first game here is interesting."

It'll be yet another milestone for Gretzky against the Canucks.

As a player, the "Great One" scored his first, 500th and record-breaking 802nd NHL markers against Vancouver goaltenders.

"I think it's great for the game when you get those kinds of players behind the bench," said Canuck Todd Bertuzzi, who'll play his first league game since his March 8, 2004 criminal assault on Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche.

Canucks will put their idol worship aside in deference to their own head coach Marc Crawford.

The 7:30 p.m. face-off (TV: TSN; radio: CKNW) will be the first meaningful game played here since April 19, 2004 when the Calgary Flames knocked Vancouver out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The new-and-improved Coyotes are led by veteran Gretzky disciples Brett Hull and Petr Nedved, along with right winger Shane Doan and centre Mike Ricci, the ex-Shark who left his mullet in San Jose.

Goaltender Brian Boucher suffered a groin injury after an exhibition game and is unlikely to be in the crease tonight, so Curtis Joseph - aptly nicknamed "Cujo" - is expected to start for the "desert dogs."


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