Wayne Gretzky

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Wayne Gretzky : biography

January 26, 1961 –

Phoenix Coyotes

Almost immediately after retirement, several NHL teams approached him about an ownership role. In May 2000, he agreed to buy a 10% stake in the Phoenix Coyotes in a partnership with majority owner Steve Ellman, taking on the roles of alternate governor, managing partner and head of hockey operations. The Coyotes were in the process of being sold and Ellman convinced Gretzky to come on board, averting a potential move to Portland, Oregon. The sale was not completed until the following year, on February 15, 2001, after two missed deadlines while securing financing and partners before Ellman and Gretzky could take over. The sale completed with the addition to the partnership of Jerry Moyes. Gretzky convinced his long-time agent Michael Barnett to join the team as its General Manager.

In 2005, rumors began regarding Gretzky becoming the head coach of the team, but were denied by Gretzky and the Coyotes. He agreed to become head coach on August 8, 2005. Gretzky made his coaching debut on October 5, and won his first game on October 8 against the Minnesota Wild. He took an indefinite leave of absence on December 17 to be with his ill mother. Phyllis Gretzky died of lung cancer on December 19. Gretzky resumed his head-coaching duties on December 28.

In 2006, Moyes became majority owner of the team, and Ellman majority owner of the Glendale Arena and Westgate development. There was uncertainty about Gretzky’s role until it was announced on May 31, 2006 that he had agreed to a five-year contract to remain head coach.

On May 5, 2009, the Coyotes’ holding company, Dewey Ranch Hockey LLC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. An ownership dispute involving Research in Motion’s Jim Balsillie (with the intention of relocating the team) and the NHL itself arose, which eventually ended up in Court. Gretzky did not attend the Coyotes’ training camp, leaving associate head coach Ulf Samuelsson in charge, due to an uncertain contractual status with the club, whose bankruptcy hearings were continuing. Bidders for the club had indicated that Gretzky would no longer be associated with the team after it emerged from bankruptcy, and on September 24, 2009, Gretzky stepped down as head coach and head of hockey operations of the Coyotes.

Winter Olympics

Gretzky was Executive Director of the Canadian men’s hockey team at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. On February 18, he lashed out at the media at a press conference, frustrated with media and fan comments regarding his team’s uninspiring 1–1–1 start. His temper boiled over after Canada’s 3–3 draw versus the Czech Republic, as he launched a tirade against the perceived negative reputation of Team Canada amongst other national squads, and called rumours of dissent in the dressing room the result of "American propaganda". "They’re loving us not doing well", he said, referring to American hockey fans. American fans online began calling Gretzky a "crybaby"; defenders said he was merely borrowing a page from former coach Glen Sather to take the pressure off his players. Gretzky addressed those comments by saying he spoke out to protect the Canadian players, and the tirade was not "staged". The Canadian team won the gold medal, its first in 50 years.

Gretzky again acted as Executive Director of Canada’s men’s hockey team at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, though not with the success of 2002; the team was eliminated in the quarterfinals and failed to win a medal. He was asked to manage Canada’s team at the 2005 Ice Hockey World Championships, but declined due to his mother’s poor health.

Gretzky also served as an ambassador and contributor in Vancouver winning the bidding process to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. He went to Prague, Czech Republic and was part of the presentation team.

Gretzky was the final Olympic torchbearer at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He was one of four who lit the cauldron at BC Place Stadium during the opening ceremony (although one was unable to due to technical difficulties with one of the cauldron’s "arms" which failed to raise) and then jogged out of the stadium, where he was then driven by police escorts through the streets of downtown Vancouver to light a second, outdoor cauldron near the Vancouver Convention Centre located in the city’s downtown waterfront district. Under IOC rules, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron must be witnessed by those attending the opening ceremony, implying that it must be lit at the location where the ceremony is taking place. Although another IOC rule states that the cauldron should be witnessed outside by the entire residents of the entire host city, this was not possible since the ceremony took place indoors. However, VANOC secretly built a second outdoor cauldron next to the West Building of the Vancouver Convention Centre, and Gretzky was secretly chosen to light this permanent cauldron. Quickly word spread through the downtown Vancouver area that Gretzky was indeed the final torchbearer, and very soon a crush of people came running after the police escort to cheer Gretzky on and hopefully catch a glimpse of him carrying the torch to the outdoor cauldron.

For the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, he was named Special Advisor to the Canada men’s national ice hockey team.

Heritage Classic

Although Gretzky had previously stated he would not participate in any "old-timers exhibition games", on November 22, 2003, he took to the ice one last time to help celebrate the Edmonton Oilers’ 25th anniversary as an NHL team. The Heritage Classic, held at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, was the first NHL game to be played outdoors. It was preceded by the Mega Stars game, which featured Gretzky and many of his Oiler Dynasty teammates against a group of retired Montreal Canadiens players (whose likes included Claude Lemieux, Guy Lafleur and others). Despite frigid temperatures, the crowd numbered 57,167, with an additional several million watching the game on television. The Edmonton alumni won the Megastars game 2–0, while Montreal went on to win the regular season game held later that day, 4–3.