It has been two decades since the Arizona Coyotes first arrived to the desert from Winnipeg. The then-Phoenix Coyotes made their debut for the 1996-97 NHL season, officially putting Arizona on the professional hockey map. With any team’s inaugural campaign come plenty of moments that go down in history as firsts. Here is a look at some firsts that happened for the Coyotes in their first year in Arizona.
Off and Howling
The first game in Coyotes history was played on Oct. 5, 1996 against the Hartford Whalers at the Hartford Civic Center. In that game, Alexander Godynyuk scored the lone goal as the Whalers won 1-0. Hartford goaltender Sean Burke, who would play for the Coyotes later in his career, earned the shutout with 30 saves. Arizona would play one more game against Hartford on Nov. 14 in Phoenix (a 2-1 Hartford victory) before the Whalers relocated to Raleigh at the end of the 1996-97 season.
In Arizona’s second game on Oct. 7, 1996 against the Boston Bruins, the Coyotes would collect three more firsts in their history. Arizona would rebound from their loss to the Whalers and pick up their first win in Coyotes history with a 5-2 victory over Boston. Mike Gartner would lead the way for the Coyotes as he recorded Arizona’s first hat trick. Gartner would finish the season with 32 goals, second on the team behind Keith Tkachuk’s 52. Darrin Shannon would take the honors for the first fight in Coyotes history as he dropped the gloves with Boston’s Steve Staios. This win would spark the first winning streak for the Coyotes as they won their first two home games in Phoenix against the San Jose Sharks and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
It would take the Coyotes 26 games into their first season in the desert before they earned their first shutout win. Darcy Wakaluk made 33 saves for Arizona as the Coyotes blanked the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 6, 1996 in St. Louis. Gartner scored in that game for the Coyotes along with Bob Corkum and Oleg Tverdovsky. It was the first of eight Arizona shutouts that season (Nikolai Khabibulin would be in net for the other seven). Wakaluk only played in 16 games with Arizona before retiring but won eight games between the pipes during the 1996-97 season.
The Coyotes finished their first campaign with 83 points, which was good enough to earn them their first postseason appearance. Arizona’s first playoff game was on April 16, 1997 in Anaheim against the Ducks. While Arizona looked prepared for their first playoff series as the Coyotes, they would end up being haunted by a star from their past. Teemu Selanne, who was traded from the original Jets the year before they moved and became the Coyotes, scored twice for the Ducks as they took Game 1, 4-2. Selanne would end up with eight points in the series (five goals, three assists) as the Ducks eliminated the Coyotes in seven games.
Charles Woodall-Pike is a journalist who writes about the Arizona Coyotes for The Hockey Writers.