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Dan Bickley

Coyotes propelled as an organization by advancing in postseason

Nashville Predators and the Arizona Coyotes shake hands following overtime in an NHL hockey playoff game Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press via AP)

The Coyotes hit the jackpot. They’ve cashed in their reprieve, which is now a momentous victory. They’ve turned the page on a major distraction. They earned a chance to build relevance and rare energy during the dog days of an Arizona summer.

This is just the break they needed.

“We rose to the occasion and we were able to win the series,” goalie Darcy Kuemper said after recording 49 saves in Friday’s series-clinching win over Nashville. “So we’re all feeling pretty good.”

As always, the Coyotes did it the hard way. The transition to a billionaire owner, Alex Meruelo, hasn’t been as easy as we all assumed.

There is still no clarity to their long-term stadium issues. Their desire to market the Coyotes to our Latino community based on the owner’s heritage seems both vain and delusional. And the saga involving departed architect John Chayka drills down to an uncomfortable question:

What makes a GM leave a billionaire owner and a job in Arizona on the verge of his team’s breakout series?

This is why the hockey matters. If the Chayka saga occurred during a normal offseason, there would be nothing to counter the dysfunction. But these 2019-20 Coyotes found their focus and purpose inside the bubble. They salvaged a season that started so well, only to crater before the pandemic hit.

They have earned a spot in the NHL’s Sweet 16. They won the franchise’s first playoff series in eight years. They could take this a long way.

“We went through a lot of crap here,” said Brad Richardson, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime.

The Coyotes went through a lot on Friday. They built excitement with a 2-0 lead. They gave it all back. They took the lead and carried it to the mountaintop, only to buckle at the knees, allowing Nashville to score a game-tying goal with their own net vacant and just 31 seconds remaining in the game.

It was the kind of sucker-punch that has leveled this organization many times in the past.

Instead, the Coyotes will continue. They are sheltered from distractions inside the bubble, and clearly, that’s helping the mindset of those in uniform.

“We’re all sick and tired of the Coyotes being out of the conversation,” Richardson said in his post-game press conference. “And I think we put ourselves in that.”

Much credit belongs to head coach Rick Tocchet, who has kept this team grinding despite all the changes in leadership. His team was focused. His team executed. His team stood firm after the crushing goal on Friday that led to overtime.

Tocchet called it a great moment for the organization, but surely, he took great personal joy in the achievement. Along with Chayka, he helped build a hockey team that defeated the forces and the shadows that could’ve destroyed them all.

“It’s being in pressure situations and embracing them,” Tocchet said.

Tocchet was the perfect man for the job when Dave Tippett left the franchise, and the same applies today. He is why the Coyotes remain a dangerous team moving forward.

Along with his No. 1 goalie, of course.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier