On Monday, the Phoenix Coyotes officially announced that team managing partner and alternate governor Wayne Gretzky would be making the move to head coach beginning at the start of the 2005-06 season.
Gretzky is arguably the best player in hockey history and now "The Great One" will look to add to his astonishing legacy with success behind the bench. However, Gretzky is not the only one venturing into new waters with this announcement as the entire Coyotes franchise has also taken the historic step of asking the game's greatest player to direct the franchise from the bench. It was a step Gretzky was eager to take.
"I wanted to be in the game, simple as that," said Gretzky. "I wanted to feel the energy and the excitement again of competing. Being in the locker-room, being with the players, I'm excited about that part of it."
Gretzky will be joined behind the bench by Barry Smith (a long-time associate coach with the Detroit Red Wings), Rick Tocchet (one of the most popular players to ever wear a Coyotes uniform) and Rick Bowness (an assistant coach for six seasons with the Coyotes who also briefly served as intern head coach for two months). Despite his "on-ice" accomplishments, Gretzky is under no illusions that the task set before him and his staff is an easy one.
"It's not going to be easy every day," said Gretzky. "Some days are going to be tougher than other days, but I look forward to this as a new chapter in my life and I'm really excited about it."
As far as his associate coaches, Gretzky made it clear that this was a sought after group that gives Phoenix the best opportunity to be successful.
"I don't think there is any one person bigger than anyone else in the organization," said Gretzky. "The coaching staff and associates I've put together were for a reason. They'll have a responsibility and they'll be as big a part of this club moving forward as I am.
"As we move forward, I am thrilled that these gentlemen have reached out and said that they would stay on board with me, come on board with me and be part of the of the Phoenix Coyotes as we move ahead."
For months, Gretzky had been rumored as the top candidate for the Coyotes' new bench boss. At a press conference on Monday, Gretzky explained his decision making process and the factors that led him to a move behind the bench.
"Over the last couple months, I've really been leaning more and more towards stepping in and taking on this responsibility," said Gretzky. "Mike (Barnett) and I have had many conversations about the team and players that we've signed and players we've recruited."
To make the decision even more complicated, Gretzky, a husband and father of five, had to account for the personal sacrifices required to assume the role of head coach, but ultimately, it was the support and encouragement from his loved ones that helped bring him back.
"We're in a tough situation," said Gretzky. "(In the end) it was my wife (Janet) over the last few weeks, who was tremendously strong in encouraging me to coach. She knew I loved to coach and that I loved to be a part of the NHL. It was her that was really the driving force behind it."
Now, with the NHL Entry Draft behind them and the free agent frenzy winding down, Gretzky and his staff can focus on the talented roster they have and how to make this year's club the most successful in franchise history.
"We have gone out and put together a pretty good hockey team," Gretzky said. "We added some speed, some character and some talent.
"I am tremendously excited and I think it is going to be fun to coach this group of guys."
While Coyotes fans will have to wait until mid-September to catch a glimpse of Gretzky and his staff behind the bench, they can take solace in the fact that the hard work behind the scenes has already begun and there is no end in sight. So when Phoenix does take to the ice, they will not be just a good team, they'll be a great one.