NEW PLAYERS 10
NEW RULES HELP
BETTER THAN '03-04? YES
Phoenix is a city dedicated to sunshine, golf courses and spring training. No one comes to the desert for hockey--not even hockey players. But Wayne Gretzky has always liked a challenge. "I heard people say, 'Why would you want to do this?'" he says of his new role as Coyotes coach. "And my answer is, 'Why not?'"
The Great One, who has been Phoenix's managing partner for hockey operations since February 2001, has spent the past two summers trying to make great things happen for a team that, despite the play of forward Shane Doan (career-high 68 points) and goaltender Brian Boucher (modern NHL-record five consecutive shutouts), finished last in the Pacific Division in 2003-04 with 22 wins. The first order of business was to add hardworking veteran forwards Brett Hull, 41, who trails only his coach and Gordie Howe in career goals; Mike Ricci, 33; and Petr Nedved, 33. Gretzky then brought in 38-year-old goalie Curtis Joseph, ninth alltime in wins. " Wayne wanted to stamp out [the image] that this was a resort town where players would come, put up two points and go out and play golf the same day," says assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who played with Gretzky for two seasons on the Kings in the mid-'90s. "He didn't want this to be a happy-go-lucky place. He wants to make this a hockey town."
Since becoming coach on Aug. 8, Gretzky, 44, has wasted no time incorporating some of the principles that helped him win four Stanley Cups and set 61 league records during his 20-year NHL career. In training camp he put the team through short but intense practices that stressed speed and offense. "I really look forward to sharing my knowledge of the sport and the game. I don't have to sit up top and watch. I can actually be on the ice," Gretzky says. "That's the part I'm looking forward to the most."
The Coyotes don't mind sharing the spotlight with their Hall of Fame coach. Says Doan, "Any recognition is good for us." --Y.Y.
Curtis Joseph thrives on facing a lot of shots. He'll face plenty in the wide-open system Phoenix plans to play.