They looked like a pretty smart bunch of guys being paraded on to the ice, at least from the upper deck $55 seats we bought to watch the Phoenix Coyotes open a new era against the New York Rangers last week in Glendale.
IceArizona is a group composed of several business leaders from across North America. They now own the Coyotes after buying the desert dogs from the league for a reported $170 million. The NHL ran the team for four seasons while everybody called for Seattle, Hamilton and Las Vegas as a new home base.
The NHL says it believes in the Coyotes, who are the last team to charge for parking, a nice revenue booster. Job.com Arena is a great place to watch hockey, even from the upper blues.
They announced a sellout of 17,125, but there appeared to be a few thousand fans dressed up as free white t-shirts. The fans were loud and seem fairly knowledgable. One 20-something guy I talked to at the Cardinals-Panthers NFL game on the Sunday actually knew the Coyotes used to be the Winnipeg Jets.
With a metro population of 4.3 million, Phoenix should have enough drawing power. The rink is not downtown, but the 45-minute snail-like drive on game night from Scottsdale is no worse than you find in Vancouver.
And to make the Coyote games more of a celebration like the Cardinals do big time, the Coyotes will allow tailgating at 17 weekend games this season. Bring some lawn chairs, cheap beers and some smokies and you’ve got the party started.
The Coyotes have a decent team, led by Shane Doan, the longest-serving captain in the league. He loves Phoenix and has turned down many trade offers. The fans adore him. The Kamloops Blazer grad is as recognizable as the Cardinals’ superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Look around the pubs in and around the rink and football stadium and there are Doan images everywhere.
On this night, the Coyotes stopped the Rangers 4-1 behind Radim Vrbata’s hat trick. Good timing for Vrbata, who was just starting new contract talks with Phoenix GM Don Maloney.
A survey on the Arizona Republic’s online site asks fans what they expect from the Coyotes this season. There were 1,671 votes cast and 81 per cent of people figure the Coyotes will miss the playoffs.
One reason for hope is d-man Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who celebrated his 22nd birthday three months ago. He plays like he’s 32 and a seven-time all-star.
Most guys in our group of 12 thought he was a law firm. I pointed out he was No. 3, who was actually Keith Yandle, before correctly finding No. 23.
Ekman-Larsson is one of the brightest young stars in the game. Much like countrymen around his age, Ekman-Larsson tries to emulate the game of former Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom.
“Oliver, not only is he a great player, but he’s one of the best guys too,” Doan told Brian Compton of NHL.com. “He’s a great kid. He’s exactly what you want young kids to be like. He’s so talented. We literally will stop and watch him practice sometimes. The stuff he does … he’s pretty special.
“It’s hard to deal with everything that comes along once you start having success to realize how hard it is to achieve it and kind of maintain it. Oliver has exceeded everyone’s expectations, and he continues to all the time.”
One nice bonus for us was seeing Vernon’s Tom Kowal refereeing the season opener. He and Ian Walsh did a fabulous job and we caught up with Kowal and crew for a Hot Stove League after the game.
Calgary linesman Mike Cvik, who stands 6-foot-8, had to duck under an umbrella at McFadden’s Restaurant for some photos. He bench pressed a few of us with his thumbs.
Anyways, the hockey tickets are cheap, the football ducats are priced right and the golf is fairly reasonable this time of year. Find a cheap flight and it’s a sports fantasy trip well worth the three-hour layover in Los Angeles.
Price a similar trip to Vancouver and you would be shelling out way more cash. Oh, and it’s 100 degrees most days. Go Coyotes.