We won’t be seeing the Phoenix Coyotes in the fall. They will become the Arizona Coyotes at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. But let’s not fast forward to this October just yet. Let’s flash back to last October…October third to be exact. At last, the Coyotes were here to stay, and on opening night of the Coyotes season, that was validated. It was a moment that the Phoenix Coyotes and their fans will never forget. There was not a dry eye at Jobing.com arena as the new team owners, known as IceArizona, along with Todd Walsh, brought down the house with the introduction of something we have all been waiting years for: ownership, stability, support, and a future here in the Valley of the Sun. That moment catapulted a beacon of hope across the valley for the beloved hockey team. This season was going to be different, it felt different, and it felt good!
The Coyotes won their home opener that night, highlighted by a hat trick courtesy of right winger Radim Vrbata. And so it had begun. Their opening month of play had given the team 20 out of 28 points. Ah yes, points….for the Coyotes, points will become a VERY critical aspect of their playoff future. After all, it is the NHL, and points mean everything. Every point matters.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2014. That beacon of hope slowly started to dim. The Coyotes were, however, still in the playoff race but time was running out. Why? Because the 2014 Winter Olympics were on the horizon and a huge gap of play in February was looming. Although the Winter Olympics meant a pause in the Coyotes’ surge for a playoff berth, there were five players from this team that would wear their countries’ colors proudly on their sweaters and participate in the hockey tournament. At the end of February, a bronze, silver, and gold were brought back to the valley. Perhaps this could be the fuel that ignites the fire in the desert dogs. Riding on the high of winning an Olympic medal could be just what the Coyotes needed to put them in the conversation for the Stanley Cup.
Fast forward to the end of March: the Playoff Push. The Coyotes were still in the Western Conference wild card race, counting every point, and battling for the final spot with the Dallas Stars. Their playoff hopes were continuing to dim but not go out. And then it happened. On March 24th, 2014 at Madison Square Garden, New York Ranger, Derick Brassard, fell on Mike Smith causing Smith’s right knee to torque. Even though tests confirmed that Mike Smith’s injury was not as severe as some had initially thought, he wouldn’t be seen in net for the rest of the Coyotes season. This was a hard blow to the team’s playoff hopes.
Just five days after the Coyotes lost netminder Mike Smith, the beginning of a seven-game losing streak ensued. Amazingly the desert dogs were still in the race with Dallas, and it wasn’t until the day before the Coyotes played their final two regular season games that they realized their playoff hopes would not become a reality. The Dallas Stars beat the St. Louis Blues on Friday, April 11th, to clinch the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Phoenix Coyotes season was going to end without a whiteout.
That brings us to April 13, 2014: The final game of the Coyotes 2013-14 season. Thousands gathered at Jobing.com arena for Fan Appreciation night to see their hockey team play one more time. And why not go out like you came in? Once again, one of the owners, Anthony LeBlanc, addressed the crowd. For the first time in what seemed like forever, a season ended without the uncertainty of whether or not the Coyotes would return in the fall. Anthony LeBlanc brought down the house, assured the crowd that they were going to work hard in the off season to ensure the success of this team, and they would be back in October, with the name of the Arizona Coyotes. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Although this season ended too soon and a whiteout was not going to happen, for the fans, there is a comfort in knowing that the Coyotes will be back in the fall. The team will look different next year and sport a new name but they WILL be back. They are here to stay. So the ending of this season does feel different, and in that regard, it feels good!