Contrary to what one might have expected, Phoenix Coyotes home games have been boisterous affairs thus far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It would have been fair to assume the mood within Jobing.com Arena would be tepid in the face of the franchise’s uncertain future. However, during moments of on-ice excitement, pockets of the crowd routinely jump up from their seats like moles in an arcade. Apparently NHL hockey still has a pulse in the desert.
Last night, as the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to take a 2-0 series lead, that trend continued. Yes, the tickets were cheap, but the building was full and the crowd was loud. The fans are not going to the games simply because of the good value in their ticket price. No, they have been enthusiastic, waving pom-poms after scoring chances and hollering at the referees when a call goes against their team. They’ve even embraced the whiteout.
There are legions of hockey fans, particularly those of us living north of the border, who hope that NHL hockey returns to Quebec City. Quite simply, we wish for a wrong to be made right. We want a family member who has been out of touch for years to reconnect and return home. Implicitly, this desire requires hockey in Phoenix to fail.
However, after watching the fervour of the Phoenix crowd throughout the playoffs, it feels wrong to hope the team is relocated. It feels wrong to want the Coyotes’ fans to be robbed so that hearts in Quebec City might rise. For an old wound to be healed, a new wound must be made.
Despite an average ticket price in the bottom five across the league, Coyotes average attendance in the regular season was dead last, averaging 12,420 a game. Don’t mistake Coyotes fans for great fans. At the very least though, these playoffs have demonstrated that they are fans. From a franchise perceived to be on its deathbed, that is an accomplishment in itself.
It has been suggested in recent days that the Coyotes may stay in Phoenix after all. A group led by San Jose Sharks minority owner Greg Jamison is said to be close to purchasing the team from the NHL. A decision could be announced as soon as the first week of May. Coyotes fans have seen this show before, no doubt.
In the meantime, the team has a legitimate chance to advance to the Western Conference finals. The club is doing its part and, for now, the fans are doing theirs. Taking together the playoff attendance, the whiteout, and the buzz of the crowd, it feels as though the fans are trying to prove something during this playoff run.
As the Coyotes players left the ice following their first victory of the postseason against the Chicago Blackhawks, a fan was pressing a sign against the glass. It read, in sparkling bubble letters, “THIS IS A HOCKEY TOWN.”
So far throughout the playoffs, it sure looks like a hockey town. Whether that remains true will soon be decided by the multi-millionaires upstairs.