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Wayne Gretzky Taking Leave From Coaching

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (CP) - Wayne Gretzky has always claimed the sacrifices made by his mother Phyllis were the most important factor behind his record-setting playing career.


With his mother battling cancer, Gretzky has decided to put his coaching career on hold with the Phoenix Coyotes.


''Throughout my career she was in the background, but she was the glue,'' Gretzky said after Phyllis was diagnosed with a lung tumour earlier this year. ''She's always been the toughest in the family.''


Gretzky addressed the Coyotes at the team hotel in Los Angeles on Saturday before flying to Ontario to join his family, which includes sister Kim, and brothers Brent, Glen and Keith.


Associate coach Rick Tocchet assumed head coaching duties for the Coyotes before their 4-1 loss to the Kings on Saturday night.


''We respect and support Wayne's decision,'' Coyotes general manager Michael Barnett said in a release. ''Family has always come first to the Gretzkys, as it should.


''The thoughts and prayers of the Phoenix Coyotes organization, and most surely those of the entire hockey world, are with Wayne and the Gretzky family at this most difficult time.''


In Gretzky's absence, Tocchet will be helped from other assistants Barry Smith and Rick Bowness.


''There isn't one guy who's going to run the show,'' said Tocchet. ''Wayne's always been a delegator and he's delegated a lot of responsibilities, so nothing really changes. I'll run the forwards and Barry will run the defence. Obviously, the players wish the best for Wayne and the family. Hopefully, they can use that motivation to get their game elevated.''


The release said that Gretzky would relinquish his coaching duties ''indefinitely'' and didn't indicate whether he planned to return to the job.


It was also unclear if Gretzky would retain his status as executive director of Team Canada's Olympic entry in Turin. Hockey Canada is set to unveil that team's roster in Vancouver on Wednesday.


''His presence will still be there, even if he can't be there in person,'' said Avalanche defenceman Rob Blake, a two-time Olympian. ''He's the greatest player in the world, and his presence and name means a lot to Canadian hockey.''


Pat Quinn, the coach of the Canadian Olympic team and the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, said his thoughts were with the Gretzky family.


''I had heard earlier there was a turn (for the worse), but you keep hoping that's not what it is,'' Quinn said from Ottawa after Toronto's 8-2 loss to the Senators. ''It kind of puts a different perspective on everything right now.


''I just hope that everybody will pray for her and she'll fight through this thing. He's doing what he's got to do.''


Phyllis Gretzky's illness kept Wayne from overseeing the Canadian team at this year's world men's hockey championship in May.


Wayne's father, Walter Gretzky, said in an October interview that his wife's condition had been improving since undergoing chemotherapy treatment.


''They got it in time,'' he said of the cancer.


Walter and Phyllis were both in Vancouver on Oct. 5 when Wayne made his coaching debut with Phoenix.


In his first season as an NHL coach, Gretzky has led the Coyotes to a 16-14-2 record and third place in the Pacific Division.


''It's something that you deal with. We have good leadership in this room, so we'll be more than OK in that area,'' Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. ''Something like this makes you realize that hockey isn't important in the grand scheme of things, and our thoughts and prayers are with the whole Gretzky family.''


After agonizing for months about whether the job would allow him time to focus on his family, including his ill mother, two sons in youth baseball and his daughter Paulina's budding career as an entertainer, Gretzky finally accepted the position in August once the NHL lockout was settled.


''We're in a tough situation because of teenage children, and then we have a two-year-old and a five-year-old, so my family and my responsibilities is sort of a juggle,'' Gretzky said.


The 44-year-old became a managing partner of the Coyotes in June 2000, although he didn't officially begin his new role until February 2001, when Phoenix Coyotes Owner Steve Ellman's ownership group completed its purchase of the Coyotes.


Gretzky is the NHL's all-time leading scorer with 894 goals and 1,963 assists for 2,857 points. He ended his playing career in 1999 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame seven months after his retirement.


He received the Order of Canada from Gov. Gen. Romeo LeBlanc in 1998.


Gretzky also served as executive director of the 2002 Olympic team, which won Canada's first gold in men's hockey in 50 years.

My best wishes go to Phyllis Gretzky. I hope her treatments go well.


On a selfish note, I hope he will continue in his role with the Canadian Olympic program.

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