Sabres, 'Canes prepare for finale


The Sabres' Daniel Briere is congratulated by his team's mascot after his Game 6 overtime goal Tuesday.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
RALEIGH, N.C. - For nearly two weeks, the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres have fought to a standstill to see who will play for the Stanley Cup, so closing the intense series with a Game 7 seems fitting.
"If you would've told me before the series that we'd be getting ready for Game 7, I wouldn't have been surprised," Carolina forward Kevyn Adams said.
"This is what we as competitors live for, so there's no reason to be tight or nervous. It's about going out there and playing your best game. We're excited. We're looking forward to this. And it's nice to be at home, too."
In an Eastern Conference finals series tied 3-3, the Hurricanes' home-ice advantage might be the only discernible difference between evenly matched teams playing tonight for the right to face Edmonton in the Stanley Cup finals. Five games have been decided by a goal, the last two in overtime. And throughout the series, momentum has turned with each shift.
The Hurricanes and Sabres have always seemed to find a way to win when they needed to most. Now they're both preparing for a game that will leave the loser with the empty feeling that a season's worth of hard work went unfulfilled.
"It's a great opportunity," Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said. "You don't know how many of these you're going to get in your career and your life. If we enjoy it and have a positive attitude going in with nothing to lose, I think we're going to be all right."
However, neither franchise has had much success in Game 7s. The Sabres are 1-4 while the Hurricanes are playing their first since moving before the 1997-98 season to North Carolina from Hartford, Conn., where the former Whalers went 0-3 in Game 7s.
n COYOTES: Wayne Gretzky has agreed to a five-year contract to remain the Phoenix Coyotes' coach.
"It is an important, important event for the Phoenix Coyotes," chief executive officer Jeff Shumway said Wednesday. "This completes our management group. We are very, very happy to get this done."
Gretzky, the NHL's all-time leading scorer, made his coaching debut last season and guided the Coyotes to a 38-39-5 record.
  • RED WINGS: The NHL's oldest player has at least another season in him.
    Chris Chelios signed a one-year contract Wednesday with the Detroit Red Wings. He will be a 45-year-old defenseman next year in the middle of his eighth season with the team and 23rd in the league.
    The three-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best defenseman played in 81 games last season and had a plus-22 rating.
    "Chris proved this past season that he can still play at a very high level," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.
    Holland said he spoke to Steve Yzerman on Wednesday, but does not know whether the 40-year-old captain will re-sign with the team or retire.
    "I talked to him briefly today, and we're going to try to meet in the next week or so," Holland said. "He's obviously making a career decision, and I want him to take all the necessary time he needs to make a decision that he's comfortable with.
    "We could wait till July 1 when you can sign unrestricted free agents, but for planning purposes, it would be good to know his plans before the draft in June 24," Holland said.
    Chelios, who was born Jan. 25, 1962, will definitely be back.
    He has 925 career points in 1,476 regular-season games, and 137 points in 228 playoff games. The 11-time All-Star helped Montreal win the Stanley Cup in 1986, and was a key player for the Red Wings when they won the title in 2002.
    At the Turin Games, Chelios and Keith Tkachuk became the first four-time Olympians in U.S. hockey history. Chelios was a captain for the third straight Winter Games, and became the third-oldest player in Olympic hockey history.
    "I never thought I'd be playing at this age, but now I can't imagine being done," Chelios said last winter.
    He won the Norris Trophy in 1996, '93 and '89, and finished second when Detroit won the Stanley Cup four years ago and in 1995.
    Montreal drafted him in the second round of the 1981 NHL draft, and he spent his first seven seasons with the Canadiens. Chelios played for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1990-99 before joining the Red Wings.
    Chelios has such a passion for hockey - and an aversion to sitting still - he played for the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League last year during the NHL lockout.
    The Red Wings also signed three draft picks - Evan McGrath, Jonathan Ericsson and Stephan Liv - to entry-level contracts.
    GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) - After signing a five-year deal Wednesday to remain the Phoenix Coyotes' coach, Wayne Gretzky was asked if it would take that long to build a championship team.
    "It better not, or I won't be here in five years," Gretzky said with a laugh.
    Gretzky wouldn't say how long it could take to deliver a Stanley Cup to the desert. But the announcement that he'll remain behind the bench is seen as critical to the club's efforts to become a contender for its first NHL title.
    "It is an important, important event for the Phoenix Coyotes," chief executive officer Jeff Shumway said. "This completes our management group. We are very, very happy to get this done."
    Financial terms weren't announced. Gretzky, 44, is also the Coyotes' part owner and managing partner. He joined the franchise on Feb. 15, 2001, when Jerry Moyes' ownership group completed its purchase of the club.
    The Coyotes went 38-39-5 in Gretzky's debut season, winning 16 more games than in the previous season. The team was 36-36-5 with Gretzky on the bench; he missed five games for family reasons.
    It was, at times, a trying year for the NHL's all-time leading scorer.
    The first setback came when Brett Hull, a likely future Hall of Famer brought in to provide veteran leadership, retired five games into the season. Injuries to goalie Brian Boucher in the exhibition season and Ladislav Nagy in February also hurt the team.
    Gretzky dealt with the death of his mother, Phyllis, in December. His grandmother, Betty Hockin, died three weeks later.
    Assistant coach and friend Rick Tocchet was arrested for allegedly running an illegal sports gambling ring in February. The scandal touched Gretzky when it was revealed that his wife, Janet, had placed bets.
    "Obviously, you live and learn," Gretzky said. "I'm a big boy. Fortunately, I have a lot of good friends and a lot of people who were very supportive. There's no question it was a tough year."
    Despite all the turmoil, Gretzky said he enjoyed coaching, which filled a void that opened up when he retired as a player in 1999.
    "Competition: The chance to compete to get your name on the Stanley Cup," said Gretzky, who led the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cup titles.
    Still, Gretzky said he wouldn't have returned if his family hadn't agreed to move to the Phoenix area. Last season, son Ty lived with Gretzky in Phoenix while Janet and the couple's other four children remained at their home in Southern California.
    "Oh, that was nonnegotiable," Gretzky said. "I wasn't going to do that again."
    Janet Gretzky attended the news conference.
    "I'm sure there will be some realtor calls to our office," general manager Michael Barnett said.
    Barnett, a close friend who served as Gretzky's agent for 21 years, said he sensed the family issues were the only sticking point for Gretzky as he mulled his future.
    "He made it clear to me at the end of the year that we had unfinished business, and he thoroughly enjoyed the competitive aspect of coaching," Barnett said.
    Gretzky's next move is to begin preparing for the June 24 draft in Vancouver.
    Tocchet is on an indefinite leave of absence from the NHL, but Gretzky didn't rule out his return.
    "As far as Rick Tocchet goes, right now it's in the hands of the league, and until the league makes a decision there's nothing that we can really do about it," Gretzky said.
    Though training camp is more than three months away, Gretzky seemed anxious to go to work. And he had a message for anyone who doubted his commitment to coaching.
    "I spent my whole career, my whole life as a youngster playing hockey, being told I was too slow and I was too small and I wasn't good enough," Gretzky said. "Then when I decided to become a coach, I was told that I can't be a good coach because I was too good of a player. So I kind of went full circle.
    "I think that, had I walked away this year, I would not have been happy with what I'd accomplished as far as wins and losses went last year," Gretzky said. "The only way that you're remembered as an athlete and a coach is winning championships. As well as I did as a player, I never went to another level until we won our first championship. And to me, that's the way it is coaching, too."
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