Gretzky To Head Canada Olympic Team

Wednesday, November 8th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TORONTO (AP) — Wayne Gretzky, intent on bringing a gold medal to Canada, will lead his country's hockey team at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

He will be the executive director of the team for the Salt Lake City Games, with Toronto coach and general manager Pat Quinn the coach.

``We all understand the pressure we're under,'' Gretzky said Wednesday. ``We all understand the situation that we're in, but we feel confident about our team.''

``We have a vision,'' Quinn added, ``and that vision is Canada with the gold.''

Gretzky's last international game as a player came during Canada's loss to Finland in the bronze-medal game at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

``He is the ideal Canadian for this position,'' Canadian Hockey Association president Bob Nicholson said.

Nicholson has assembled what he hopes will be Canada's own dream team, one that will return Canadian hockey to supremacy.

Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe will be the assistant executive director.

Quinn's assistants will be Jacques Martin of the Ottawa Senators, Ken Hitchcock of the Dallas Stars and Wayne Fleming, coach of the Canadian national team program.

Gretzky is now part of a group that expects to complete the purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes by the end of the year. The Hall of Famer will be the head of hockey operations.

Nicholson said Gretzky will have the ``final say'' in his Olympic job but the coaches will run the team.

``I'm thrilled that Pat will be the head coach,'' Gretzky said. ``And, quite frankly, with him and his staff, Kevin and I and Bob will give them our recommendations. But, at the end of the day, it's his hockey team,'' Gretzky said.

New York Rangers winger Theoren Fleury, a member of the 1998 Canadian team, called the choice of Gretzky ``exciting for Canadian hockey.''

``Over the years as a player he's gained a lot of experience and played on a lot of winning teams,'' Fleury said during the NHL's weekly conference call. ``Obviously, he has a good feel for the players in the league that he will pick from.

``He'll surround himself with good people. He's going on the ownership side as well, and that will give him a good idea of the players who are available.''

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