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Gretzky Behind The Bench

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
By Dan Rusanowsky

When he was a teenaged junior hockey player dazzling crowds across Canada, Wayne Gretzky was told by some people that he was too small, too skinny, and too slow to make a major impact in the National Hockey League.

History shows how he dealt with those challenges as a player. All "The Great One" did was become the game's all-time leading scorer, an all-time great and one of the outstanding ambassadors for the sport. A lot of people who didn't follow hockey knew who Gretzky was, and they still do.

Now, Gretzky embarks on his new career as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, and there are many who are ready to jump on the critical bandwagon. I can hear a few of the comments already: "He doesn't need this," "He has no head coaching experience," "Superstars don't make good coaches because they don't understand the plight of the average player," etc. etc. etc.

Well, all I'll say here is: don't count Wayne Gretzky out at anything that he attempts to accomplish.

The greatest scorer the game has ever seen has spent many months thinking about this new challenge, and few have probably been as thorough in analyzing whether it's something that he really wants to do. Knowing him, he will put everything that he has into this new career, and he'll cover all of the bases in preparing for each practice, let alone each game.

With experienced associates like Rick Bowness, Barry Smith and Rick Tocchet on board, and with a good captain in Shane Doan at his disposal, Gretzky will be able to do what he did as GM of Team Canada: he will surround himself with highly qualified professionals, he will allow them to do their jobs, and he will rely on them to help him find solutions for the inevitable challenges that come along during any NHL season.

Granted, the Great One does have much to learn about the coaching profession. But from bench coaching to practice planning to player motivation to discipline, he has such a strong base that he's bound to ramp up to full speed very quickly. Most interestingly, he does have an affinity for the game's role players, and he understands their part in any success that his team may have in the coming season.

Hockey seemed to be easy for Gretzky, but he actually had to work a lot harder than people may believe to achieve the level of greatness that he had as a player. I think that he'll take a similar, determined approach toward coaching, which will eventually make the Phoenix Coyotes a tougher team to play against.

Does Gretzky really need this? Well, in a way, he does, and that's the biggest reason why he's going to coach the Phoenix Coyotes.

The desire to compete, to risk, to face the fear of failure and the joy of success, and the need to continue to face challenges are all hugely important to those who become great stars. After so many years of achievement, the desire to achieve doesn't simply go away.

What happens next naturally points us to the next phase of Gretzky's career: to accept the challenge of teaching a young group of players the same values that he learned on the pond in Brantford from his father, Walter, and on the NHL road with a plethora of great coaches. It will be a lot different than coaching his son's softball team, but it will surely fulfill his need for risk and reward.

If Gretzky likes the experience, he'll be doing it for a while, and he'll work as hard as anyone to be successful at it. It will be very interesting to see how he does, and Sharks fans will have a look at his progress eight times a year, beginning on November 19th at HP Pavilion. Chances are, he won't be too small or too slow for this challenge, either.

I'm Dan Rusanowsky, "In the Crease."

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