PHOENIX READY FOR BATTLE WITH DETROIT
By: Chad Lynch
Every game is important and those against Western Conference opponents, even more so. But tonight's contest in Detroit will be a little different than most road games. Tonight the Coyotes will make their first appearance at Joe Louis Arena of the season; and while the focus is on coming away with two points, there is no denying the traditions and atmosphere that comes with playing in the Motor City.
"For me, I grew up a Gordie Howe fan and a Detroit red Wings fan," said Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky, "so there is certainly a little extra excitement coming here.
"I was lucky enough to play one game in the old Olympia Stadium, which still ranks as a highlight in my career. Then the franchise moved into this arena and the tradition has just gown."
The Coyotes players also recognize the building's history and their experiences in it.
"My first time I came to this building was watching a playoff game between the New Jersey Devils and the Wings," said captain Shane Doan. "Then as a player my first trip here was the season Detroit won 62 games and it was fun getting to skate here."
Phoenix center Mike Ricci, still feels the added pressure of facing one of the NHL's most storied franchises in front of their own fans.
"Part of what makes this such a special place to play in is the crowd," said Ricci. "The fans are always loud, they sell-out the place and it makes it a fun place to play in for both the home team and the visitors."
For some of the younger Coyotes players, just because they haven't spent year's making trips to Joe Louis Arena, doesn't mean that the legend of the building has eluded them.
"It's big coming into a building like this," said defenseman Keith Ballard. "I would guess that it is similar to baseball players making trips to Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium and while it is cool as a player your first time, you know that you are coming here for the same reason that you go to every building and that is to get two points."
"As a player, you are aware of the history in a building like this, but we also know that this is a test for our club," said David LeNeveu. "But more importantly for us, we are at a big point in our season where we need to step up and tune out any distractions if we are going to play our best and come out with a win."
CUJO IN SATURDAY - LENEVEU IN SUNDAY
The Coyotes will start goaltender Curtis Joseph on Saturday night and turn around with David LeNeveu on Sunday in Chicago.
"Curtis has done an amazing job this season and has been as good as any goaltender in the NHL," said Gretzky. "We had planned on playing him tonight and we will do that, but I want to give him a little rest on Sunday and David (LeNeveu) has played great for us this season."
SANDERSON CLEARED TO PLAY
Geoff Sanderson, who left Thursday's game against Los Angeles in the second period due to a bone bruise on his knee, was cleared to play in tonight's game against the Red Wings.
As a precaution, Sanderson did not practice with the team on Friday, but did take part in the team's pre-game skate this morning. After declaring he had no pain in his knee, Sanderson was penciled into Saturday's line up.
NASH OUT - GAINEY IN
Coyote forward Tyson Nash will be a scratch for Saturday night's contest as he rests a minor hip flexor. Recent Phoenix signee Steve Gainey will take his spot in the line up.
"He (Gainey) has worked hard in San Antonio this season and has earned this shot," said Gretzky. "It is also nice that he is comfortable playing on the wing because it allows us to put him in on the line with (Mike) Ricci and (Fredrik) Sjostrom tonight."
Defenseman Denis Gauthier skated with the Coyotes again on Saturday morning, but he is still at least a week away from returning to the Phoenix line up, a move the Coyotes will not rush.
"Denis brings an added dimension to our defense," said Gretzky. "He is a huge part of our team and we will be safe and not rush him into coming back. Plus, our defenseman have been playing very well and we have the ability to let him get back to 100%."
Tonight's contest against the Detroit Red Wings can be seen on WB6 and heard on KDUS-1060AM or KDKB-93.3FM.