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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Wednesday, October 5th (All times eastern)

Phoenix Coyotes (0-0-0) at Vancouver Canucks (0-0-0), 10 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Wayne Gretzky makes his regular season coaching debut tonight when the Phoenix Coyotes visit the Vancouver Canucks in the 2005-06 season opener at GM Place.

The Great One accomplished everything possible on the ice as a player and has found success as executive director of Team Canada's entry in the most recent editions of the Olympic Winter Games and World Cup of Hockey.

Rumors swirled during the lockout that Gretzky was itching to coach the Coyotes, and things finally came to fruition in early August when he took the job. He will have experienced assistants helping him adjust, as Rick Bowness, Barry Smith and Rick Tocchet will serve on his staff.

Gretzky took over a club that has been up-and-coming for a few years, but also made some significant additions last summer before the lockout. Those acquisitions included Brett Hull, Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Boyd Devereaux.

This group joined a cast that already featured the likes of 03-04 leading scorer Shane Doan, Ladislav Nagy, Derek Morris and Mike Johnson.

The Coyotes will be expected to land a playoff spot under Gretzky, something they haven't done since 2002. Overall, the Coyotes franchise hasn't advanced past the first round in the postseason since the Winnipeg Jets did so in 1987.

Phoenix went 2-6-0 during the preseason.

Vancouver, meanwhile, has its dynamic duo back. After missing Todd Bertuzzi for the tail end of the 2003-04 season and the playoffs, the Canucks will have "Big Bert" in the lineup as this campaign begins. Commissioner Gary Bettman reinstated the rugged power forward following the ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement, meaning that Bertuzzi and Canucks captain Markus Naslund can again wreak havoc on opposing defense corps.

Naslund and Bertuzzi have been the spearheads of a Canucks' attack that has become one of the league's most dangerous. This, in combination with a stern defense anchored by Ed Jovanovski and Mattias Ohlund, has made Vancouver a perennial playoff club.

The Canucks have especially thrived under head coach Mark Crawford, recording at least 100 points in each of the last two NHL seasons. In 03-04 they won their first division title in more than a decade.

New general manager Dave Nonis didn't make much noise during the NHL's abbreviated offseason. He did re-sign several key players, and add right wing Anson Carter and backup goaltender Brent Johnson.

The Canucks went 3-2-2 in exhibition action.

Vancouver went 3-0-1 against Phoenix in 03-04 and is 7-0-2 in the last nine meetings.

10/05 10:29:35 ET

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