Cheers and tears: As relocation looms, Coyotes close out Arizona chapter on high note

Apr 18, 2024, 1:22 AM | Updated: 7:28 am

TEMPE — Local sports teams are an identity for many. A shield of sorts that people gravitate to for a myriad of reasons.

Maybe they give you a break from the daily grind. Maybe they provide you with an opportunity to connect with family and friends.

So, when a team is ripped from its roots and fanbase like the Arizona Coyotes have been amid the news of their relocation to Salt Lake City, it feels much more like you’re losing a piece of yourself. Some fill that void with anger, others with sadness and confusion.

But while the moving trucks were seemingly backed up to the loading docks at Mullett Arena ahead of the Coyotes’ season finale against the Edmonton Oilers, Arizona and its fans replete with signs, memories, cheers and tears made the most of their final ride in the desert behind a 5-2 whiteout win in Tempe that covered just about every emotion possible in three periods of work.

“It was a mixed feeling for sure for our fans in a sense,” head coach Andre Tourigny said, adding he still hasn’t wrapped his head around the fact that this was his final game in Arizona. “A lot of pride for their team. They support us, they cheer us. There were a lot of emotions, but at the same time, there’s a little bit of sadness on their side and I really, really understand that. We feel that and that was our way to thank them and say thank you for everything they’ve done for us and the support we have.”

“Honestly, I think I was more nervous for this game than the gold medal last year (with Team Canada),” the head coach added. “I did want our players to play a hell of a game for our fans. It’s a place we really enjoy. The Valley, the fans were great. We enjoy living here, we enjoy being here and the coaches, the management, the players, everybody wanted to finish on a positive note and give a really strong effort. Really proud against a top team the way we showed up.”

There’s no getting around it: Arizona fans are getting the raw end of the deal. They’ve remained passionate only to be rewarded with broken promises and an eventual departure.

But even with the knowledge that this iteration of the Coyotes has expired, they still crammed into Mullett Arena and poured their heart and soul into their team one final time.

The impact of Arizona leaving hasn’t been lost on the players, either, especially for second-generation Coyote Josh Doan, who started living the desert dog life from a very early age.

“I was a fan growing up and I’ll always be a fan of the Coyotes,” Doan said postgame. “I chose to cheer for the Coyotes because it was my team, it was Arizona, not only because my dad played for them. It was one of those things where I grew up with Arizona and that’s who you’ll support. I’ll support any Arizona team. The fact that I was involved in hockey is a little bit more meaningful with the Coyotes. To know what they’ve gone through, all the fans here, and the ups and downs and to see them all here tonight after what they’ve been put through the past 20 years is really incredible.”

“My dad came back tonight. … For him to come back out of his way shows how much it means to him,” the young Doan added. “To my sisters that were there tonight, my mom, it’ll be emotional for them. It’s been something they’ve been a part of their whole lives. Obviously, everything being up in the air is tough right now. I think it’s just taking it day by day and seeing what’s going to happen.”

For now, the sun has set on NHL hockey in the desert. And until plans are more than just pipe dreams, there’s no telling when the Coyotes might once again grace the state.

But for the ones who were forced to turn out the lights on the franchise, their time in the Valley will never be taken for granted.

“It was a privilege,” Tourigny said. “It was my first chance as a head coach in the NHL and I think I’ve been fortunate to start in such a beautiful city, such a beautiful Valley. My wife really loved it. We’re privileged to be here.

“I for sure will miss it. … What do you not like about the Valley? If there’s a paradise, it’s near here. I don’t know where it is, but it’s not far from here.”

Arizona Coyotes chant tracker

Fans throughout Mullett Arena made sure their voices were heard from puck drop to postgame with a handful of different relocation-based chants.

Here’s a quick rundown of the top hits that don’t require mouths being washed out with soap:

“Salt Lake sucks!”

– “Where’s (owner Alex) Meruelo?”

– “We want (Suns owner Mat) Ishbia!”

– “Build the rink!”

Better late than never!

On top of reliving past games and bidding farewell to the team they grew to love, one Coyotes fan made sure to secure one final memory of their beloved team by getting down on one knee and proposing during the first intermission.

Spoiler: She said yes.

As they say, “love finds a way (even with relocation looming).”

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