The Phoenix Coyotes’ NHL season and incredible playoff run came to a devastating end on Tuesday when the Los Angeles Kings netted an overtime winner to book their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993.
And I couldn’t be more proud of the Coyotes.
Here’s a short list of accomplishments from a season that most experts though impossible.
• First Pacific Division Championship
• First time advancing past first round of playoffs since Winnipeg.
• First appearance in Western Conference Final.
• Third consecutive 40+ win season.
But the pinnacle moment of the season, to me, was the birth of a new phrase in Phoenix: “How ’bout those Coyotes?”
Phoenix has not been supportive of its hockey team in a long time. We’re a town of winners and, let’s face it, a losing team who plays in the middle of cow fields is not worth the drive for many, who would instead opt to spend their time and money on other things.
But then the amazing happened. The Coyotes, with little big-name talent and without big egos, built a successful hockey team. They started to win. They started to beat big teams. They started to make headlines and, as if people just learned about the Coyotes for the first time, the Desert Dogs had a fan base that was growing exponentially with every win.
Yes, I’m talking about the bandwagon that was rolling from the heart of the city all the way out to Westgate, bringing in new hockey fans who had never seen a game and sending them home with a passion and a few souvenirs. For nearly one month, Phoenix cared about a team that plays in Glendale, not on grass, but on ice. The D-backs were put on the back burner and Lord Stanley reigned supreme.
When the Coyotes lost, I was disheartened to see some people immediately opt to start talking about the D-backs or NBA playoffs, but a lot of those bandwagoners are still cruising around, wondering how the players whose names they were just beginning to learn went crashing out of the postseason so fast. They’ve been bitten by the hockey bug and I’ve got good news: it’s all up hill from here.