Coyotes aim to maintain

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:25 PM ET

The Phoenix Coyotes won’t be sneaking up on anybody this season.

Not after the memorable campaign they put together last year.

A 107-point season, followed by their first playoff appearance in eight years, saw the Coyotes almost literally rise from the ashes.

“We want to continue to build on where we were last year,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. “I thought we had a very hard working team that competed hard just about every night. I thought there were very few nights that we took off.”

The 50 wins and 107 points were the most ever in franchise history, dating back to the club’s days in Winnipeg.

The Coyotes finished second in the Pacific Division behind the San Jose Sharks, then went on to lose in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs.

With so much insecurity heading into the year concerning their ownership situation, it was an impressive accomplishment for the Coyotes.

“As the season went on last year, it became more evident to our group that we were a competitive group,” said Coyotes winger Scottie Upshall. “It was unlike years in the past where the organization was solid up until about Christmas and then it kind of died off.

“We had really good focus and guys came to the rink and played hard every night.”

Led by captain Shane Doan, who finished the season with 55 points, the Coyotes slowly began to make believers of themselves and those around the league.

They also began to draw fans back into their building strengthening commissioner Gary Bettman’s claim that hockey could be viable in the desert.

“The fans are there,” Upshall said. “We had great support in the playoffs and getting to the playoffs. Our last 10 games at home, the fans were coming out and cheering and giving new life to our building.

“We’re hoping to a good start to this season and maybe with a new ownership group, that’s going to help our team and it’s going to help our attendance and get everyone back in the building having a good time.”

With the majority of their team back from last season and a number of key additions in Ray Whitney, Andrew Ebbett and Eric Belanger, expectations will be high on the club to continue its winning ways.

“There is pressure to continue on what we had last year,” said Upshall.

“You’re starting to sense it a little bit it the room, guys are looking to get back on this thing right away and wanting to start strong.

“If not it could be one of those up and down seasons again. A big start is key to a team’s success.”

The Coyotes will start their regular-season overseas, playing a pair of games in Prague, Czech Republic against the Boston Bruins.

Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Oilers at Rexall Place was their last in North America before making the trip to Europe.

“At the end of the day, you want to be a better playoff team,” Tippett said.

“To do that, you have to earn the right to get into the playoffs. That’s the first step for us.

“Last year we were at team at the start of the year that was hoping to win.

And by the end of the year, we were a team that expected to win. This year, from the start we’re expected to win and our players recognize that it’s going to be harder.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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