GLENDALE, Ariz. – “The Great One” was watching from above in his first game as a National Hockey League coach on Friday night. What he saw was a 3-2 victory for the Phoenix Coyotes dampened by an injury to starting goalie Brian Boucher after the game was over.
Wayne Gretzky decided to watch the Coyotes’ first two exhibition games from his suite high above the ice of Glendale Arena.
“Just the first couple of games I wanted to be up top and be able to see the guys,” he said before the Coyotes faced the Minnesota Wild in their preseason opener, “just to see the team from above, that’s all.”
The Coyotes beat the Wild in game that featured 22 penalties as the players tried to get accustomed to the new rules.
Each exhibition game is followed by a one-on-one shootout to show fans what will be done in tie games under the new system. On the first attempt by the Wild, Boucher injured his right groin moving to block Peter Olvecky’s shot and had to be helped from the ice. The severity of the injury wasn’t known, but it didn’t look good.
“I don’t even know what to say. I’ve never seen anything like that,” Gretzky said. “The guy played really well, was maybe our best player, and to take an injury in that kind of scenario is just not good.”
It was an otherwise good night for the Coyotes, even though the crowd was sparse, 10,417.
Assistant coaches Barry Smith and Rick Tocchet ran things from the bench. Gretzky plans to take his spot there for Tuesday’s home game against Los Angeles.
Gretzky knows that for a while, he will be the story, not his team. The attention is nothing new.
“I’m kind of used to it,” he said. “It’s part of my life.”
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