Scott Bordow: Something strange and wonderful happened in Glendale on Saturday. Thousands of fans showed up for a Phoenix Coyotes game at Jobing.com arena. They wore white T-shirts, waved white pom-poms and loudly cheered a head coach not named Wayne Gretzky.
Something strange and wonderful happened in Glendale on Saturday. Thousands of fans showed up for a Phoenix Coyotes game at Jobing.com arena. They wore white T-shirts, waved white pompoms and loudly cheered a head coach not named Wayne Gretzky.
There was no talk of bankruptcy, Balsillie or Baum. Just a night of hockey, a welcome-back White-Out to Wite-Out the depressing news of the last five months.
“This is great,” said Jay Penniman as the Coyotes took the ice before their 2-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Penniman and his wife, Crickett, were in their usual spot: Section 109, Row P, seats 9 and 10. The Gilbert couple has had half-season tickets for eight or nine years — they can’t remember exactly how long — but they’ve been coming to Coyotes games ever since the team moved to the Valley in 1996.
Even their fashion statement was retro. While everyone around them wore white, Jay was decked out in a vintage Keith Tkachuk jersey; Crickett in a Jeremy Roenick uniform top.
This was their payback for having to suffer through a summer of angst, for having to listen to lawyers and league officials and wondering if their team would be stolen from them in the drab light of courtroom 703 and moved to Canada.
“It was so stressful,” Crickett said. “We were upset, but what can you do?”
For this one night, however, they could get lost in the mirage.
Jobing.com Arena was sold out, thanks to $15 upper bowl seats and lower bowl tickets that were reduced from as high as $180 to $25. The crowd erupted each time the Coyotes had a scoring opportunity or delivered a big hit, blissfully oblivious that there were so few paid local ads on the boards around the ice.
“Obviously we’re so grateful for the fans that have stuck by us this summer after everything they’ve went through,” said captain Shane Doan, the only Coyote who was around for the original White-Out. “It was incredible.”
The tug-of-war for the Coyotes isn’t over, of course. Jim Balsillie is out of the picture, but there’s no guarantee the NHL will keep the team in the Valley past this season.
This e-mail quote by deputy commissioner Bill Daly in a Canadian newspaper sounds as if the league is blazing a path to Kansas City:
“The relocation threat has finally been removed from the equation. We will see how the fans respond.”
Nice. The NHL, Jerry Moyes, Wayne Gretzky, they all drive the organization into the ice, and now it’s on the fans.
The irony, of course, is that the Coyotes may finally have a product the fans can get behind — and a coach who earns his salary — but it may be too late to save the franchise.
“Fans are really excited about this team,” Coyotes president Doug Moss said.
Too bad the Coyotes sucked that excitement out of the building Saturday. They wasted seven power-play chances, including two 5-on-3 man advantages. That’s not exactly the way to build a fan base.
“We couldn’t find something to make them erupt the way they wanted to,” coach Dave Tippett said.
The most unfortunate part of the night? Simple. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was nowhere to be found. After everything the franchise and its fans had to endure this summer, Bettman should have been in the arena to show his support.
Instead, he was at the Florida Panthers’ home opener. Talk about being tone-deaf.
How can the league ask fans to support the Coyotes when the commissioner won’t even make an appearance on the most important night of the season?