by Jas Faulkner, contributing editor
It’s safe to say that the Eastern Conference Finals are viewed by the mainstream sports media as a redux of a storied Clash of the Titans. This is a pretty stark contrast to the reception the Western Conference Finals have received from many members of the press. This past week, it was borne out by the general tenor of the discourse at the WCF captains and coaches press conference. Many of the questions faced by Phoenix head coach, Dave Tippett, Coyotes captain, Shane Doan and to a much lesser extent, their counterparts from Los Angeles, Darryl Sutter and Dustin Brown, proved that chatter about who deserved to go to the dance and who didn’t may have subsided, but it has not completely stopped. During the segment featuring Doan, a reporter asked about the handshake line at the end of the second round series against Nashville.
“Barry Trotz hasn’t been very successful,” added the reporter, as Doan talked about the encouraging words he received from Nashville’s coach.
Doan was quick to respond, “This is twice in a row for him to get to the second round.”
The almost surreal dismissal of the second round series between Nashville and Phoenix was enough to give the impression that some members of the media expected Vancouver and Los Angeles to simply keep playing until the Eastern Conference announced a winner. Maybe they were waiting for Dustin Brown and Henrik Sedin to flip a coin to see who would play the Eastern Conference for the cup. Okay, that might be a little farfetched, but there seemed to be an almost profound lack of understanding of what is going on with the newer franchises among reporters from older markets.
The reality of Shane Doan answering questions about the conference finals really should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Yet the subtext to many of the questions came this/close to asking “Why you?”
Doan finally let them know why, citing facts and figures that proved, among other things, that Phoenix had earned the right to move on to the third round. You know, because that whole winning games thing seems to have escaped some people’s attention.
Prior to Doan’s defense of his team’s position, the verbally agile Tippett found himself answering questions about the fan base as well the process behind creating a roster that had the power to reach escape velocity from early tee times and rounds of charity baseball games. Tippett’s remarks revealed that the head coach was not only aware of what was going on in the rink, but in the culture that surrounds the team. Should Dave Tippett have to give the media a crash course in Coyotes Culture 101? No, but he understands that this an occupational hazard of being the head coach of what many still consider to be the NHL’s unlikeliest franchise.
It’s really simple. Thanks to a number of factors*, the playing field is getting fairly level. Eventually, everyone is going to have to let go of the myth of the fingerprints that is the continued belief in the uneven postseason prospects of franchises based on history. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. The mindset that seeing a team like Phoenix go deep into the playoffs merits the kind of snippitude every high school cheer coach felt obligated to dish at the odd ugly girl they encountered while chaperoning the prom is so Twentieth Century. These days everyone has a chance to go to the dance, and that’s the way it should be.
*longterm fallout from the ’05 lockout, wider geographic distribution of youth hockey programs, a narrowing of the age range of active players