When the Coyotes announced Wayne Gretzky as the team's new head coach on Monday, the entire hockey world was in a state of euphoria. Hockey fans around the globe were thrilled that greatest player in the history of the game would now be behind the bench for the Phoenix Coyotes. But perhaps no group of people was as excited as the Coyotes players themselves.
Every NHL player has seen a multitude of coaches during their hockey career; however, none of those coaches can boast the resume that their current bench boss can. Despite the added pressure of playing every shift under the watchful eye of the game's most celebrated son, the Coyotes players are anxious to hit the ice.
"It's a great move," said Coyotes center Mike Ricci. "He is obviously the best player of all-time and we all are being given the chance to work with him and learn from him first-hand."
For some, like Coyotes left wing Tyson Nash, there is added importance being carried over from his early days as a hockey fan.
"I grew up in Edmonton and was a huge Oilers fan," said Nash. "To have Wayne as our coach, it's going to provide such an energy and vibe. It really is exciting."
In years past, the summer off-season was a cherished time and the mere thought of the first week of training camp was enough to make any veteran's body a little sore. But for Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who has been through nine NHL seasons (including six trips to the post-season), an NHL All-Star game and scoring the game-winning goal in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, the start of the 2005-06 season may be the most exciting event to date.
"I can't wait for the first day of training camp," Doan said. "This is going to be fun. I'm going to love it. It's pretty remarkable. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to play under a coach like Wayne Gretzky."
There is no dispute that Gretzky knows as much about hockey as anyone possibly could, but how will that knowledge transfer to the players when he takes his place behind the bench?
"He is going to be a great teacher," said Nash. "He knows things about the game that nobody else could tell you. He just has an energy that we as a club are going to feed off of and it is something I don't think you could have found with anybody else."
Now armed with what is arguably the most talented roster in franchise history and a never-before seen excitement for the coaching staff, Coyotes fans have to believe that this is the type of move that can take a club deep into the post-season.
"You always come into the season with the mentality that you are going to win the Stanley Cup," said Nash. "With this team and this coaching staff, we know we have all the tools to raise this team to the next level."
For Ricci, a former Stanley Cup winner with Colorado, he knows that to reach the Finals every player needs to have the highest of expectations. And to win in the Finals, the coach's expectations of his players need to be just as high.
"I think Wayne's expectations will be just like the players and they are very high," said Ricci. "We have a head coach in place who has won and knows what it takes to win and the same goes for guys like coach Tocchet, coach Smith and coach Bowness. They have all been around and know what it takes to be successful.
"Combine that with this group of players and the sky is the limit for us."
With higher expectations coming from inside the locker-room, comes an added sense of individual responsibility for each player to his coaches, the team and the fans.
"It is not just one person's responsibility to make things happen," said Ricci. "It is every member of the coaching staff, every single player inside the (locker) room, every member of the organization that is going to help determine our success. Knowing that, you certainly don't want to let anyone down and that is a good sign."
Coyotes' fans are certainly ready for a Stanley Cup contender, especially coming off a season of lost hockey. While there might not have been a more perfect time for Gretzky to make the move to head coach, his reasons behind doing so have nothing to do with publicity and everything to do with wanting to win.
"I don't think you become 'Wayne Gretzky' if the only reason you do something is for the attention," said Ricci. "This is a man who's first thought has always been winning and that is going to continue here. He is not the type of person who would take on the responsibility and demands of the job if he didn't really think he could be successful and that is the goal; to turn this team into a Stanley Cup winner."
Even so, there is an unmistakable awe that hockey fans have for Gretzky and that will no doubt be evident at every game the Coyotes play this year.
"It was a huge deal when he returned and took on a management role here," said Nash. "Now with him coming in as the head coach, people are naturally going to be even more excited and want the chance to see it first hand. People will line up behind the bench to catch a glimpse of him.
"The fact is, he is the best player to ever play the game of hockey and now having him behind the bench is going to be amazing and I think the fans are going to feel the same way."
Winning is contagious, it always has been. The success of one person fuels the success of all those around them. Now, there are high expectations for the Phoenix Coyotes, some of the highest coming from their new head coach and that is a good thing. After all, Wayne Gretzky knows what it takes to be successful. He knows how to get players motivated. He knows that the only limitations this team faces are the ones they put on themselves. But most importantly, he knows how to win.