Tippett takes charge in Phoenix

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

To many on the outside looking in, the Phoenix Coyotes job looked like a suicide mission.

They were a perennial loser with no owner, no coach and a future that looked about as long and bright as an April snowman's.

It's the kind of coaching job a raw rookie desperate for his first shot might not touch with a 10-foot whistle, let alone an experienced, respected bench boss who was still being paid by his former employer.

But when the Coyotes offered their tattered reins to Dave Tippett, just days before the season began, he was happy to accept.

"It was a good organization, a situation where you can come in and really try and build something, and those things outweighed any vacation time that I was due," said Tippett, who could have kicked up his heels for a year, while still being paid by the Dallas Stars.

Now here are the Coyotes, nearly everybody's pick to finish 15th in the West, grinding their way into playoff contention through a quarter of the season.

Clearly, Tippett saw something in the beleaguered Coyotes -- 13-9-1 heading into last night -- that few others did.

"The leadership they had in the room. Shane Doan, Ed Jovanovski. I coached Matthew Lombardi and Scottie Upshall at the World Championships.

"I thought there was some good veteran leadership there that was really going to be needed to stabilize the situation," Tippett said.

"Then I looked at some of the young players; there's some real upside on some young players.

"When you start piecing things together, there's some good blocks to build with and that excites me -- the ability to come in and help build a team and see if we can get it to the highest level possible."

Which is what they seem to be doing.

The Coyotes are very much like the Oilers in that they're not very flashy nor offensively gifted. But unlke the Oilers most nights, they're getting by on hard work and commitment.

They're buying in to a defence-first philosophy that isn't always pretty to look at, but it beats watching a loss.

"The players were a very coachable group coming in, they were looking for some direction," said Tippett, who credits assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson for setting the tone in training camp, when the Coyotes had no idea where they'd be playing or who their coach would be -- only that it wouldn't be Wayne Gretzky.

"Ulf did a great job with training camp; he came in and stabilized things in unique circumstances."

Unique? Not many NHL teams hire a head coach 11 days before their season opener.

Doan, the veteran captain who was last off the ice at yesterday's morning skate, likes the way the Coyotes have responded this season, but says they were never that bad to begin with.

"Other than three weeks last year, we would have been talked about as one of the teams that was up and coming and on the rise," he said, pointing out that they were in fifth place at the All-Star break.

"In three weeks we lost nine games and fell right out of it.

"At the trade deadline we made some moves, got a few new guys and kind of got things going back in the right direction but by then nobody was really paying attention because we were out of it.

"Other than three weeks, though, we thought we had a decent team."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos