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Canucks spoil Great One's coaching debut

Associated Press
10/6/2005 2:07:15 AM
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VANCOUVER (CP) -  It wasn't the way he wanted to start his NHL coaching career, but Wayne Gretzky thinks the Phoenix Coyotes are already showing their potential.

Markus Naslund scored a pair of goals, the second coming just 19 seconds after the Coyotes had cut to the score to 2-1, as the Vancouver Canucks spoiled Gretzky's coaching debut with a 3-2 victory Wednesday night.

"There was a couple of breakdowns mentally," Gretzky said after the loss.

"We said from the beginning we're not going to change everything overnight. It's going to take some steps. From where we were three weeks ago with a new group, it's a lot better tonight. That's the great news."

Defenceman Mattias Ohlund had the other Canuck goal.

Todd Bertuzzi, in his first game back after a 17-month suspension for his brutal attack-from-behind on Steve Moore, also earned an assist on Naslund's first goal.

"It's nice to be back," said Bertuzzi, who received a thunderous cheer from the sellout crowd of 18,630 during the pre-game introductions.

"It felt good just to get back in a game situation."

Brendan Morrison also collected two assists.

Keith Ballard and Oleg Saprykin, on a late power play, scored for the Coyotes in the third period.

Gretzky, the NHL's all-time point leader who was hired Aug. 8 as the Coyotes coach, admitted it was a different experience being behind the bench instead of playing on the ice.

"It's more tiring as a coach, if that makes any sense," he laughed.

"It's the first night hopefully in many nights in my life. It was an intriguing night.

"We have 81 more games to go. If I get the effort like that tonight, and we keep improving, we'll win our fair share of games, believe me."

Gretzky looked nervous during the singing of the national anthems, as he shifted his weight from foot-to-foot and looked around the building.

Once the puck dropped Gretzky seemed to calm down. Instead of pacing behind the bench, he stood at about the middle, hands at his side. He'd sometimes reach over to tap players on the shoulder or put one foot on the edge of the bench and lean forward on his knee to watch the action.

Any resentment the fans held over last season being lost to a lockout were quickly forgotten as the sellout crowd welcomed the Canucks back.

Unlike the pre-season, when the penalty box doors swung open and shut like the doors on a busy saloon, only 10 penalties were called during the game. The first period was almost seven minutes old before the first player was sent off.

The game was fast, with plenty of end-to-end action and lots of shots. Phoenix outshot Vancouver 32-30.<

The NHL has promised a more up-tempo game this year and so far, Naslund liked what he saw.

"It's a faster pace out there but it's definitely a fun game to play," said the Canuck captain.

"They're letting the players play hockey and give them a lot of credit for doing that."

The line of Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison collected give points. Naslund thinks there's still room for improvement.

"I think we had a decent game," he said.

"I don't think we're hitting full stride yet."

Bertuzzi made a pretty play to set up Naslund for the game's second goal. The big winger got the puck at the blue line, then hit Naslund in full stride as he broke to the net.

Naslund held the puck, made Phoenix goaltender Curtis Joseph go to the ice, then slide it past him on the backhand.

CANUCK NOTES - The agent for Fedor Fedorov says the Russian centre wants a trade instead of being demoted to Vancouver's AHL team in Winnipeg. Fedorov has a contract to play in Russia. ...Morrison played in his 348th consecutive game.  Only Karlis Skrastins of Colorado, who has played in 351 consecutive games, has a longer streak. ...The game was the 87th consecutive sellout at GM Place.

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