Gretzky's Team Canada role limited due to ill mom

Updated: December 19, 2005, 5:19 PM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- The Canadian Olympic team is not counting on Wayne Gretzky, who has taken an indefinite leave with the Phoenix Coyotes to be with his ailing mother.

Gretzky is the hockey team's executive director for the Turin Games. He announced Saturday he is putting his NHL coaching career on hold. His mother, Phyllis, is battling lung cancer.

"Our whole process here right now is to make sure everything is OK with Wayne and with his mom and that's where our focus is," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson told The Canadian Press on Sunday from Calgary, Alberta. "I've talked to all of our other management people and we'll just take it day by day here."

"Wayne's been the leader of this whole group but right now we're not concerned with any of that, we're just concerned about his mom and himself," he added.

Gretzky also served as executive director of the 2002 Olympic team, which won Canada's first gold in men's hockey in 50 years, as well as the 2004 team which captured the NHL's World Cup of Hockey. But his mother's illness kept him from overseeing the Canadian team at this year's world hockey championship in May.

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

"He's back there right now and we expect to talk to him later today or tomorrow and sort of make a plan on what's best for him and ultimately Hockey Canada," Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, Gretzky's assistant on Team Canada, told the CP from Edmonton, Alberta.

Team Canada is set to announce its 23-player Olympic roster Wednesday in Vancouver. The braintrust is also set to talk by conference call Monday to further reduce the short list although it's not clear whether Gretzky will be involved.

"I'm not assuming anything at this point, other than we'll talk later today or tomorrow [about Gretzky's situation]," Lowe said. "We're hoping to have a conference call Monday on where everybody is since our last meeting [Dec. 9]."

It's not clear at this point whether Gretzky will be in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Wednesday to announce the Olympic roster.

"His presence will still be there, even if he can't be there in person," Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake, a two-time Olympian, said Saturday night. "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 Toronto Maple Leafs, said his thoughts were with the Gretzky family.

"It kind of puts a different perspective on everything right now," Quinn said from Ottawa after Toronto's 8-2 loss to the Senators.

In Gretzky's absence, associate coach Rick Tocchet assumed head coaching duties of the Coyotes. 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," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, also an Olympic hopeful. "Something like this makes you realize that hockey isn't important in the grand scheme of things."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press