On Monday, the Renaissance Sports and Entertainment Group finalized the purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes from the National Hockey League. Coyotes Chairman and Governor George Gosbee, along with Alternate Governor Anthony LeBlanc, held a conference call with media members from across North America.
Shortly after that call, LeBlanc made it a point to thank Coyotes fans as the team begins a new era in Glendale and throughout Arizona.
“(The fans) have been tremendous,” he said. “I don’t know if I could have done what these fans have done. It is the most resilient fan base I have ever seen or witnessed. We thank them and we are looking forward to rewarding them for that patience and resilience.”
LeBlanc’s words may have been the understatement of the year. Consider that for four straights seasons, Coyotes fans have been asked not only to invest in their team financially, but to also make the emotional investment without any guarantees of long-term stability.
Which reminds me of hearing the stories of fans hanging around in their seats long after the conclusion of the final home game of the 2011-12 season. Since the team had yet to clinch a playoff spot with road games remaining at St. Louis and Minnesota, many viewed the tilt against Columbus as possibly the last hockey matchup inside Jobing.com Arena.
The team ended up sweeping the road trip, clinching the Pacific Division title and powering its way to the Western Conference final.
Fans caught another reprieve and they took full advantage.
They packed the Jobing.com Arena during the post-season, partied on the plaza and refused to let any hint of uncertainty ruin the moment. They never wavered.
You see, hockey fans don’t waver and Coyotes fans wrote the book.
Their Pack mentality was on display one late evening in April of 2012 when hundreds of fans met the team’s plane upon arrival at Sky Harbor Airport. As the plane taxied to its usual stopping place, and with the team's division championship secured, I remember looking out of my window to see hundreds of fans beyond the fence line screaming and cheering for the team.
Call it a flash celebration at 12:45 a.m.
They continued practicing this unique welcome home celebration for the rest of the post-season. After the Coyotes eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in six games to win their first ever playoff series, hundreds of fans were back that following afternoon, on that same fence line, six deep, cheering and supporting.
And even last season, after a three-month work stoppage, Coyotes fans were back and ready to go. Season ticket retention remained strong, attendance was up and television ratings were at all-time highs. Fans were ready to go, engaged as ever even as the ownership cloud hovered outside the arena.
Ownership uncertainty had been successfully blocked from the minds of Coyotes diehards.
And again this summer, their resolve would be tested one final time. But this round would be different. As ownership news and headlines became front-page reality, Coyotes fans reverted back to their fighting mode that had won them success in previous off-seasons. Grass roots initiatives revved back up educating the citizenry while doing their best Charlton Heston impersonation in defending a team they refused to let go.
They packed Glendale City Council meetings, decked out in Sedona Red and Desert Sand in support of their team. They sat patiently, played by the rules and hoped a seven-member council would see it their way.
It was hockey solidarity, an off-season reunion of sorts in difficult times, and their loyalty, dedication and tenacity paid off. For the first time in four years, they could talk about power play, the Captain, the new guys and the new beginning.
Suddenly, the “O” word was irrelevant.
Four years have taught us a great deal about the strength and resiliency of a sports organization surviving and at times thriving through tough times.
“It’s a day to celebrate,” LeBlanc proclaimed.
Indeed it is. Especially for the fans.
A stick tap to all of you.
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