As I stood outside Gila River Arena waiting for the imminent downpour, the excitement began to set in. Home advantage has been the norm for me at SAP Center with the San Jose Sharks. To experience a road game with the boys in teal was on my bucket list. With the perfect opportunity, my cousins and I decided to pull the trigger and headed to Arizona to see the Sharks play the Coyotes in Glendale.
My expectations for the game were low as the Coyotes had the Sharks’ number this season. Arizona got the best of San Jose at last meeting with a shootout win at the Shark Tank. I was pumped to learn the Coyotes were celebrating their 20th Anniversary and wearing their throwback jerseys. Even though I traveled the previous week visiting a friend in Los Angeles, I could not pass on the opportunity. To this day, I regret passing up a trip Las Vegas with my friends due to exhaustion from studying abroad in Italy for two months in 2011.
The Flyers and the Sharks are my favorite teams, as I was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and grew up in the Bay Area. But regarding jerseys, the Coyotes’ Kachina jersey has been a favorite of mine since I first got exposed to hockey as a kid. I enjoyed watching games on television whenever Phoenix played because of how awesome the jerseys looked. Right after booking the tickets, I was going to buy the jersey.
Phoenix Is a Place to Visit
Despite the inclement weather, I was not going to let a few sprinkles ruin the fun. I looked forward to what Phoenix and Glendale had to offer on my first visit to Arizona. Unfortunately, a late flight from San Jose to Phoenix limited plans for a Friday night outing. My cousins and I looked forward to eating at Coach’s Corner but settled for Hard Rock Café as the restaurant was not open.
Saturday afternoon did not disappoint with Alice Cooperstown. After visiting the Arizona Diamondbacks’ store at Chase Field, my cousins and I headed to the restaurant to feast on the Big Unit. Named after Diamondbacks’ ace Randy Johnson, the 22-inch hot dog is served on a baguette with fries. Between the three of us, we devoured it and earned a photo. The only problem is the photo has yet to appear on their Instagram account likely due to the fact the three of us were sporting our Sharks jerseys.
While I did not fully indulge in what Phoenix offers, the hospitality from the locals had a lasting impact. The people were polite and courteous everywhere I visited. I would have visited Arizona State University to watch their hockey team but they were not in action. Overall, the environment in Phoenix makes me want to plan another trip.
Off to Glendale for Hockey
Stomachs full from a satisfying lunch, Glendale was next for a Saturday night on ice. We arrived early to check out the Gila River Arena. From initial impressions, Glendale has a lot to offer with a movie theater, shops and multiple options for food. With a cloud surrounding the future of the Coyotes, I am left scratching my head as to why the team would want to leave Glendale.
After a quick snack at Buffalo Wild Wings, we made our way to the arena to wait in line. Luckily, other Sharks fans were in line despite being outnumbered by Coyotes fans. I was familiar with the situation after attending other sporting events on the road to support my teams from the Bay Area. By getting in line early, a Keith Tkachuk bobblehead was guaranteed, given to the first 10,000 fans as part of the 20th anniversary of Coyotes Hockey.
After taking in the arena from our seats, we headed to the Coyotes Den to snag a throwback jersey. With the coveted jersey acquired from the team store, I was ready for some hockey. A sellout crowd was on hand to honor the 1996-97 Phoenix Coyotes and all-time starting six Coyotes players.
A Guest at Gila River Arena
Normally, I am loud along with the boisterous Sharks fans rocking SAP Center. At Gila River Arena, the setting was different as I was a guest at a visiting arena and showed respect. I still jumped out of my seat when the Sharks scored to the displeasure of surrounding Coyotes fans. My cousins and I sat four rows from the glass in section 114 to see the Sharks attack twice. Win or lose, the moment was to be enjoyed.
A good contingency of Sharks fans was on hand for the game. Before our flight to Phoenix, I met a couple who were also going to the contest. The two are Sharks season ticket holders, and one was known by the players for wearing a teal wig to games. She began wearing the wig throughout the playoffs last season but missed the final game due to surgery. This season, she has worn the wig to every game as a good luck charm.
Pre-game festivities gave the Coyotes a jolt to start the game and the Sharks were on their heels. However, Brent Burns continued his Norris Trophy campaign to open the scoring. Cheers from Sharks fans overwhelmed the jeers by Coyotes fans. San Jose scored three more times, and Aaron Dell was spectacular in net in a 4-1 win over Arizona. To come away with a win on the road was a bonus.
Final Thoughts on Arizona
Gila River Arena is gorgeous and a great venue for hockey. Should a new arena be built for the Sharks, the Coyotes arena is a great blueprint. Given the current situation of the team, I do not understand why they would want to leave such a beautiful facility.
On the way to Glendale, my Uber driver said going to the arena is often difficult during the week because of the traffic. He is an Arizona Cardinals season ticket holder, and the NFL stadium sits next to Gila River Arena. For football games during the week, he said making the trek isn’t worth the drive if you wanted to get to the stadium an hour before the game, because of the traffic. Tickets for weekday Coyotes games can go for as little as $5 depending on the matchup.
Arizona is where the Coyotes should remain. From my short time in Phoenix, the team should move back to the area. A new arena needs to be built as Talking Stick Resort Arena, the team’s original home, is outdated. Public transportation is accessible in Phoenix and can handle hockey should the decision be made.
Hopefully, my fellow colleagues who cover the Arizona Coyotes for The Hockey Writers will be able to continue writing on the team for years to come. To lose the Coyotes in Arizona would be bad for the NHL and take away the great coverage current Coyotes’ writers are providing right now for The Hockey Writers. Hockey needs to stay in the desert.