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CARAVAN BEGINS AT GILBERT RINK

Sunday, 09.14.2008 / 9:39 PM / Community
By Don Schwartz

A caravan of players and staff members took to the streets on Sunday for the official start of Coyotes' Caravan – a week-long celebration of the season ahead, where the team takes Coyotes hockey from Jobing.com Arena and brings it directly to the fans!

Day 1 was a stop at Polar Ice Gilbert – the Valley’s newest ice skating facility. Lending an assist to the grand opening festivities were Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek and forward Steven Reinprecht as the pair signed autographs and posed for pictures with those in attendance. While many came for the opportunity to chat with their favorite Coyotes players, others were simply happy to see hockey taking hold in their part of town.

“It’s great seeing hockey come out this far East,” said Larry Halliday, a Coyotes season-ticket holder who lives in the Queen Creek area. “Before this facility opened we had to go to Chandler, which for the people that live out this far is at least a 20-minute drive. I hear they already have sign-ups for youth hockey. I think it’s exciting to see the sport progress on this side of the Valley.”

The grand opening of Polar Ice Gilbert – a two-sheet ice facility located at 2305 E. Knox Rd. – increases the amount of ice sheets in metropolitan Phoenix to 12 and the number of public skating rinks to seven, turning the desert floor into a virtual hockey hotbed.

Among those taking advantage of the “Polar” temperatures in the East Valley was Moira Mason of Gilbert, who came to the event with her husband and two young daughters. The former Philadelphia Flyers ticket holder was looking forward to seeing her children on the ice, playing the game their parents love. Having already been bitten by the hockey bug, these youngest fans had their arms full of collectibles for Michalek and Reinprecht to sign and show off to their fellow classmates.

“Even though it’s 100 degrees outside she’s still going to wear her Coyotes sweatshirt to school (on Monday),” Mason said of one of her daughters. “She’s going to start with the learn-to-skate program and get ready for hockey season. Her dad played hockey when he was younger and we want her to play and now we’re right around the corner.”

The day also was used to bring awareness to the importance of helmet safety for children, whether it’s when playing ice hockey or riding a bicycle. The Coyotes and Reinprecht partnered last season with Gilbert and Mesa’s fire departments to raise awareness of this safety issue and Sunday was another step in the continued partnership.

“He’s one of our favorites,” Gilbert Fire Captain Dan Reynolds said of Reinprecht and his support of the department’s safety programs. “He has some ties to the fire department here, which is nice for us, but it’s also a pleasure to meet Zbynek and see him out here, too, supporting the cause.”

Coyotes' Caravan continues Monday as Ilya Bryzgalov, Enver Lisin and Derek Morris make their way to Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe from 6 – 8 p.m. For a listing of all the public stops on the Caravan – as well as CoyotesFest – visit phoenixcoyotes.com.

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