GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)—The Wayne Gretzky coaching era began on the road. Now he’s working on getting his name associated with winning again.
The Coyotes went 0-2 in two road games before The Great One’s long-awaited debut at home.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it counts,” Gretzky said.
The game-winner was a reflection of the changes Gretzky made during his years as the team’s managing partner for hockey operations—and one he didn’t.
Doan, one of the top holdovers from the 2003-04 team coached by Bob Francis most of that season, redirected a slap shot by Sean O’Donnell into the net with 4:42 remaining for the game-winner. O’Donnell got the puck from Mike Leclerc, who acquired it below the goal line and skated toward the circle before passing out.
“It’s a big thing we’ve been preaching—pucks and people to the net—and we finally got one to go in,” Doan said.
O’Donnell and Leclerc are newcomers to the team, attracted to the desert by a chance to play in an organization led by Gretzky, who decided in August to coach the team. So is Curtis Joseph (1-1-0), who made 23 saves for the win, his 397th.
Ladislav Nagy scored Phoenix’s first goal on his first penalty shot.
The Coyotes dropped games in Vancouver and Los Angeles, each time by 3-2 scores, in Gretzky’s first two coaching ventures. But that only built the anticipation—the crowd was announced as a sellout at 17,799 in the new Glendale Arena—and the cheering began before the first puck dropped when the Coyotes unretired the No. 9 jersey worn in Winnipeg by Bobby Hull so that Brett Hull, his son, could wear it for the remainder of his career.
“It was certainly a special night,” Joseph said. “The best father-son ever to play, and to see Bobby pass the jersey over to Brett. And I think it’s only fitting for Brett to wear No. 9 with Hull on the back. It was a nice, classy ceremony.”
The loss in Los Angeles was painful to Gretzky, who took the blame for signing a lineup sheet that took forward Fredrik Sjostrom out of the lineup even though he was in uniform and on the ice before the game. Assistant coaches tried to defuse the gaffe by pointing out that they made out the roster, but the embarrassment lingered.
This time, it was all smiles for Gretzky, who got the biggest cheers as the final seconds ticked off.
Gretzky, credited with popularizing hockey in the Southwest and Sun Belt, is the NHL’s leading scorer. In Doan, one of the game’s emerging power forwards, the quick, explosive Nagy, Joseph and big defensemen like O’Donnell, he has a team that he may be able to coax into the playoffs as he promised during the celebrations of his coaching decision.
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire felt his team lost focus.
“They all wanted to score,” Lemaire said. “Anything goes—winger plays defense, centerman plays the wing. Everyone wants to cover the other guy’s job and doesn’t do their job.”
Joseph was staunch during the first period, stopping 12 of 13 shots.
But he couldn’t find the handle on a rebound of Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s slap shot on the third Minnesota power play. Robitaille got the puck in the circle and wristed it into the net below Joseph’s glove with 6:28 left in the first.
Nagy, activated from injured reserve after missing the first two games with a sore shoulder, tied it with 1:13 to go in the Coyotes’ first penalty shot of the season after Wild defenseman Nick Schultz whacked Nagy on the leg with his stick to interrupt a breakaway.
The Slovakian left wing bore down on Roloson along the right side of the slot, shifted left and fired low and to the goalie’s right.
The Wild also had a penalty shot, but Alexandre Daigle couldn’t convert.
Phoenix’s Zbynek Michalek tripped Daigle with his stick with 2:17 remaining in the second period. Daigle went straight in, firing the puck inches outside the post after Joseph crowded the pipe to his left.
“Usually you see one shot per team in a whole season,” Gretzky said. “To see two in one night is pretty rare, but that’s exciting for the fans.”
The two penalty shots in one game was a franchise first, and the first time in the NHL since Jan. 27, 2004, between Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. … New Coyotes LW Geoff Sanderson will join the team Sunday and play his first game for Phoenix on Tuesday at Dallas. The Coyotes acquired Sanderson and prospect Tim Jackman in a trade with Columbus. They gave up LW Jason Chimera, D Cale Hulse and C Mike Rupp. … Minnesota G Manny Fernandez, who didn’t suit up for the Wild’s opener Wednesday against Calgary because of muscle spasms, was in uniform and warmed up extensively before this game. … The Coyotes lost C Mike Ricci with 8:29 left in the third when teammate Boyd Devereaux deflected a slap shot by Schultz into Ricci’s face.
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