I’ve been through the desert with a coach that had game…
Everyone who loves hockey needs to mark September 24, 2009 on their calendar. That is the day hockey, as we know it, died. I’d been trying to figure out what it would take for the greatest player in hockey history, to finally turn his back and say, “Enough of this.” This week, and much to my relief, we found out. It turns out that all it took was sheer league incompetence, lack of support, and prying into his personal life. Who knew?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am the one of the world’s biggest Wayne Gretzky fans. He is my idol, and has been for over 30 years. I can rattle off the stats, enjoyed every game he played, and took the day off work when he was traded to the Kings because I was so upset. I still have a VHS copy of his final game, but have been never watched it, lest the required psychological help. Denial isn’t just a river, kids.
But, since day damn one, when Wayne Gretzky took over as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, I have been adament in my disapproval. He coached the Coyotes from 2005 to 2009, finishing with a 143-161-24 record, and the team missed the playoffs in all four seasons. As well, he owned a small piece of the franchise. I can’t count the number of times I screamed at the TV as the Great One stood behind the bench, frustrated, cursing, flailing his arms, and generally looking terrible. “Wayne! Why are you doing this to yourself?” I would holler. He just did not need that much stress in his life.
The whole hockey world watched as his name was dragged through the mud during the Rick Tocchet gambling scandal. But he survived. However, the final straw came when Gretzky’s finances, (he was due to make $8.5 million that season) came into light during Phoenix Coyote bankruptcy court proceedings. This broke an agreement that the information was to be sealed. Once that trust was broken, he decided he had seen enough of this Gong Show league, and stepped down. He will not get a dime of the money owed to him due to the bankruptcy filing, and upcoming sale of the team, so this was not a cash grab and run.
While he had little success as a coach, his off-ice hockey brilliance was evident when he put together the Canadian Gold medal winning team at the 2002 Winter Olympics. As a country, we owe him for ending a 50 year drought. In my humble opinion, this is where he should have stayed. It is what he is good at. He can spot talent, and knows what it takes to put together a winning group. There are a lot of teams out there that would pay good money for that kind of mind to help them improve. As I watch Steve Yzerman put together our National team for 2010, I see how calm and relaxed he looks. In comparison, Gretzky looks like he has had to walk from New York to Phoenix without food or water, and carry the league with him. His on-ice achievements will never be matched. Be honest with yourselves folks. Nobody will score 92 goals, nobody will have 163 assists, and nobody will have 215 points in a season again. You can love Sidney and Alex all you want, but in today’s game, this will not happen.
He should never have stepped into this pile of ‘unnecessary’. He was doomed right from the start in 2005. Unlike his celebrated foray into the already established Los Angeles hockey world in 1988, the Coyotes are still playing in a relatively new market. I know they WERE the Winnipeg Jets, but they now play in an area not accustomed to hockey. Any ice in the Arizona is usually used to cool drinks, and is not to be skated on. You could probably ask 98% of the people in Phoenix where Winnipeg is, and they won’t have a clue. Nor, would most understand, or care about hockey. They could give a seminar on the “icing” rule at Arizona State, and most would think it was a baking class.
Very few “sports fans” in Arizona knew the treasure they had been given in the desert. But, he was supported by his players through it all. They knew the wealth of hockey knowledge they were fortunate enough to have around them on a daily basis. Captain Shane Doan was proud to play every day knowing who his coach was. Wayne Gretzky changed the way the game was played. Now the ‘game’ will have to take a hard look at itself and realize it chased away its’ greatest star…and change again from his absence.