Coyotes Enjoying Time in Arizona's Spotlight
GLENDALE -- The Arizona Diamondbacks have five division titles and a World Series championship banner hanging in their rafters. The Arizona Cardinals went to the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, ending a long draught of futility, while the Phoenix Suns have been to the NBA Finals twice and the Western Conference Finals as recently as 2010.
As for the Phoenix Coyotes? Just trying to survive has been hard enough. A distant fourth in a pro sports market that also includes a major university (Arizona State) and a gaggle of fringe sports options, just reaching the playoffs has been a struggle, while making postseason noise has been a dream.
|Photo by Getty Images|
Suddenly, NHL hockey is the sports flavor of the month in Arizona. While the Suns missed the playoffs and might be losing Steve Nash and the Diamondbacks have stumbled out of the gate, the Coyotes are on the first extended postseason run in franchise history and have captured the imagination of Valley sports fans.
Television ratings are at record levels. Jobing.com Arena, previously only full when fans from opposing teams bought half the tickets, is now packed for the home team. And with the news this week that former San Jose Sharks owner Greg Jamison is closing in on a deal to buy the team and assure its long-term future in Arizona, the Coyotes finally have something to howl about in the desert.
"People are excited. I was taking my daughter to the airport (Wednesday night) and there was a bus at the airport that had a sign flashing its route, and then flashing 'Go Coyotes,'" Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "So there you go. Somebody knows."
Captain Shane Doan suddenly found himself the center of attention at the same bank branch where has gone for more than a decade. "I mean, people have talked to me before there," Doan said. "But there were a lot more people coming up to me this time."
Doan, goalie Mike Smith and playoff hero Mikkel Boedker were invited to the Diamondbacks game, given personalized jerseys and introduced to the crowd this week. The Diamondbacks have been showing goal replays and the final minutes of victories on the Jumbotron, while television analyst and Coyotes fan Make Grace was writing down score updates on a whiteboard in the broadcast booth.
|Derek Morris. Photo by Getty Images.|
"It's a fun thing to see," said defenseman Derek Morris, who has the second-longest tenure in Phoenix behind Doan's 15 years. "We've had great fans all along. This has always been a great place to play. But we're giving people something to cheer about these last few years, and the excitement is rising."
Of course, there was nowhere to go but up. It's not like being a Maple Leaf in Toronto or a Bruin in Boston -- not quite yet. Even with two All-Star appearances and a playoff beard that should draw attention all on its own, defenseman Keith Yandle still moves around the Valley in anonymity.
"I went to Best Buy, Home Depot and the grocery store," Yandle said, running down his itinerary the day after the Coyotes eliminated Nashville in the Western Conference Semifinals on Monday "I was in each of them for probably a half hour to 45 minutes, and I didn't get recognized once."
Not that he's complaining.
"It's fine for me flying under the radar," Yandle said with a shrug. "It's nice to be able to do my thing."