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Gretzky leaves his team to be with ill mom

By wire services
Published December 18, 2005

LOS ANGELES - Wayne Gretzky took an indefinite leave as coach of the Coyotes on Saturday to return to Canada to be with his mother, who has lung cancer.

Gretzky left before the Coyotes played the Kings and went to Ontario, where he grew up and his parents, Phyllis and Walter, still live.

Gretzky addressed the Coyotes about an hour before flying to Brantford, Ontario, to join his family, including sister Kim and brothers Brent, Glen and Keith. Associate coach Rick Tocchet assumed coaching duties.

Gretzky, a managing partner in his first season as coach, also serves as the executive director of Team Canada, which is expected to announce its Olympic roster Wednesday. He cited his mother's illness for not running the program during the spring's world championships but said later her condition was improving.

BLUES: Forwards Keith Tkachuk and Dallas Drake and goalie Curtis Sanford were put on injured reserve. Tkachuk will miss 4-6 weeks because of knuckles broken Friday when a puck hit his right hand. Drake has a sore back and is day to day. Sanford, who became the starter last week when Patrick Lalime was waived, pulled a hip flexor Friday when he collided with teammate Eric Weinrich. Defensemen Eric Brewer, who missed 10 games with a shoulder injury, was activated. And goalie Chris Beckford-Tseu was recalled from ECHL Alaska.

Saturday's games

FLYERS 5, BLUES 2: Mike Knuble and R.J. Umberger scored twice against host St. Louis' Jason Bacashihua in his debut. The teams combined for four goals in 1:42 in the second. Umberger put in a rebound at 5:19 to make it 2-0. Aaron Downey made it 2-1 42 seconds later by poking in a loose puck. Knuble swatted in a rebound 25 seconds after that, and Umberger beat Bacashihua to the stick side 45 seconds later to make it 4-1.

HURRICANES 4, DEVILS 1: Chad Larose scored his first goal 1:59 into the third and Eric Staal his 22nd 19 seconds later for host Carolina.

SABRES 4, PENGUINS 3: Martin Biron made 30 saves in winning his 13th consecutive for host Buffalo. The Penguins played without Mario Lemieux, who had a recurrence of his irregular heartbeat during Friday's loss.

THRASHERS 2, PANTHERS 1: Ilya Kovalchuk and Jim Slater scored 17 seconds apart in Florida's 13th consecutive road loss. Florida's Roberto Luongo stopped the first 24 shots he faced but lost a 1-0 lead 5:24 into the third when Slater put a wrist shot between his legs. Then Kovalchuk scored his 21st goal by knocking in his rebound.

SENATORS 8, LEAFS 2: Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Wade Redden had a goal and two assists as host Ottawa scored six power-play goals.

ISLANDERS 5, AVALANCHE 4: Chris Campoli's third-period goal helped New York hold on. The Islanders matched a season-high for offensive output at home. They also scored five against the Rangers and Boston.

WILD 4, CANADIENS 3 (OT): Kurtis Foster's one-timer with 1:47 left won it for host Minnesota. The Wild failed on its first seven power plays then converted to tie it with 5:45 left. Brian Rolston, who had two goals and two assists, took Alexandre Daigle's pass from behind the net and beat Cristobal Huet. Then in overtime, Michael Ryder was called for hooking, and Foster converted with a second left in the power play.

PREDATORS 7, BLUE JACKETS 3: Host Nashville scored a franchise-record six goals in the second. Tomas Vokoun returned 10 days after straining his left knee and made 23 saves for the Predators. Rick Nash, who tied for the league lead with 41 goals in 2003-04, returned after missing 17 games with a sprained left knee and put Columbus up 1-0 with 7:26 left in the first. [Last modified December 18, 2005, 01:02:23]


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