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Great To Be Back
E.M. SWIFT
November 28, 2005
Six years removed from his last shift, Wayne Gretzky has brought his superstar luster back to the NHL, coaching the surprising Phoenix Coyotes--and loving it
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November 28, 2005

Great To Be Back

Six years removed from his last shift, Wayne Gretzky has brought his superstar luster back to the NHL, coaching the surprising Phoenix Coyotes--and loving it

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Against the Kings on Oct. 6 the Coyotes turned in the wrong lineup card, mistakingly listing ace penalty killer Fredrik Sjostrom as a scratch. Just before the opening face-off Sjostrom was ruled ineligible. The Kings scored two power-play goals in a 3-2 win. "I apologized to the team and said it would never happen again," Gretzky says. "Then I called Quinn and Hitchcock and told them not to laugh because they'd done it too."

After the Coyotes started the season 1-4-1, Gretzky showed doubters he had the moxie to make hard decisions. Tough enough? When 741-goal scorer Brett Hull, a close friend of Gretzky's, struggled, Gretzky cut Hull's ice time to such a degree that he retired. Gretzky traded center Jeff Taffe, his niece's fianc´┐Ż, to the Rangers. He made healthy scratches of two of his most experienced players, Ricci and Sean O'Donnell.

Two days after the Coyotes blew leads in losses on Oct. 29 and 30, Gretzky put them through a 50-minute practice without pucks. "We knew it was coming," says Doan. "He's a controlled guy. He doesn't yell and scream. But you know when he's upset. We've also had scrimmages playing wrong-handed, where everyone's laughing. He wants players to enjoy coming to the rink."

Gretzky has found it hardest to integrate his family into his coaching life. His 15-year-old son, Ty, a ninth-grader, lives with him in Phoenix, plays high school hockey and works as a stick boy on the Coyotes' bench. But Paulina, 16, Trevor, 13, Tristan, 5, and Emma, 2, live with Janet in L.A., commuting to Phoenix when the Coyotes are home on weekends--if they can work around Paulina's budding singing career and Trevor's baseball team. "We'll make it work," says Janet. "He's found his niche. We talk after games, and it's upsetting for us after a loss. But he feels he's put everything out there, 120 percent, just as he did as a player."

"I get emotional," Gretzky says. "Sometimes my heart rate doesn't come down till the morning after a game. But it's enjoyable. I needed this stress, I guess. I needed the challenge. Did I think I was going to like it? Yeah. Did I think I was going to love it? Probably not. But I do. I love it."

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