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Rick Tocchet rejoins Coyotes' coaching staff after gambling suspension

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Rick Tocchet is rejoining the staff of Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky after an absence of two years while he dealt with legal issues surrounding his involvement with illegal gambling.

The time away was a combination of a leave of absence and a suspension by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Tocchet returns to his former job of associate head coach.

"This was a mistake. The whole thing makes you feel bad," Tocchet said on Wednesday. "I feel bad for my parents and everybody else that this went down, but the bottom line is that after everybody did due diligence, I'm going to be back coaching again tomorrow."

Tocchet took a leave of absence since being charged in February 2006. He was sentenced last August to two years' probation after pleading guilty to promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling.

Last November, Bettman announced that the league had determined Tocchet's role in the gambling operation was not as deep as initial reports suggested. The Coyotes wanted him to return immediately but Bettman decided a three-month suspension was appropriate.

Tocchet is eligible to return to coaching on Thursday.

"It took a lot more time than maybe I wanted," Tocchet said, "but the sport of hockey, they really did a great job to figure out what was going on and they came up with their conclusions. But saying that, I made a mistake. I should not have gotten involved in illegal gambling. I paid a heavy price."

Gretzky wasn't at a news conference Tocchet and other Coyotes officials held on Wednesday. He did, however, release a statement.

"I am extremely happy that Rick will finally be returning to the Coyotes," Gretzky said. "With this episode behind us we can now all move on and concentrate on the great game of hockey, and working to make the Phoenix Coyotes a playoff team."

Tocchet said his job would be "more teaching with the young guys. Wayne said the power play. You know, day to day stuff, motivation, helping plan practice. No different than before. I should fit in no problem."

Coyotes chief executive officer Jeff Shumway noted there had been a change of ownership of the team during Tocchet's absence.

"(Owner) Jerry Moyes and I didn't know Rick Tocchet," Shumway said. "It was important for us that we went through the same process in bringing Rick back as an associate coach that we would have gone through had we hired a new coach."

General manager Don Maloney and his staff did an extensive number of interviews with people who had worked or played hockey with Tocchet.

"I am very happy to say that everyone that we've talked to has nothing but the highest compliments for Rick, as a human being, hockey man and a knowledgeable coach," Shumway said.

Maloney said Tocchet can add important input to what already has been a successful season.

"We were lacking just what Rick can bring to us," Maloney said, "not only his instincts for the game but individual 1-on-1 work after practice."

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