LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Columbus coach John Tortorella had to drop out of the NHL All-Star weekend to take care of his ailing dog, the league turned to the Great One to replace him.
Wayne Gretzky will coach the Metropolitan Division team in the All-Star Game on Sunday as a last-minute fill-in for Tortorella.
"When he told me you're going to get (Alex) Ovechkin and Sidney (Crosby), well, that's a pretty easy decision," Gretzky said.
Tortorella dropped out late in the week, forcing the NHL to scramble for a replacement to coach one of the four divisional teams in the 3-on-3 tournament format. Montreal's Michel Therrien, Minnesota's Bruce Boudreau and San Jose's Peter DeBoer are the other three coaches.
The league found a decent replacement in Gretzky, the leading scorer in NHL history and the former coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. He also played eight seasons for the host Los Angeles Kings, and his statue stands outside Staples Center.
"Well, he did coach a little, in addition to everything else," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It was all kind of last-minute. We felt it was the logical and reasonable thing to do."
Gretzky got a head start on his duties by coaching a celebrity exhibition game Saturday, leading a team that included pop star Justin Bieber.