Coyotes fans: Hands off our team!

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:45 PM ET

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — They’ve had their NHL team as long as we had it, so I guess it’s no wonder they feel it’s theirs to keep.

Tell a Phoenix Coyotes fan you’re from Winnipeg, and they’ll immediately look at you like you’re trying to lift their wallet.

“No, you cannot have my team,” season-ticket holder Lori Kohlhase, a Phoenix native, said. “You gave them up 15 years ago. You cannot have them back. Go get your own team.”

Wait a minute — I thought this was our team. We’re just trying to return it to its rightful place.

“They lost them, for whatever reasons, way back when,” ’Yotes fan Stephanie Sidora said. “We didn’t steal them. A lot of Winnipeg people have been saying things like that, and that’s not true. The Coyotes are here now, they make a difference. We don’t want to lose them.”

It’s an emotional tug of war, with some equally passionate people, if fewer of them, pulling from south of the border.

“They’re not going anywhere,” 21-year-old college student Nate Wisniewski said. “The Coyotes need to stay here. I’m a huge hockey fan. We’re a winning team, a solid team. Even though we didn’t fill the building every night, we had some diehard fans.”

That much is true.

Attending a pair of recent games at Jobing.com Arena erased a couple of myths for me. One, that the building is always half-empty. And two, that nobody really cares.

Although announced crowds of 12,000-plus (on a Tuesday) and 15,000-plus (Friday) were slightly inflated, the place had atmosphere. These are fans who’ve moved to Arizona from all over North America. They know when to cheer, and boo the ref as well as anybody.

“Sometimes people don’t get it because it’s such a fast-paced sport,” Eddie Clark, a Phoenix native, said. “They don’t like going like this (moves his head back and forth) watching the puck: ‘I can’t find the puck.’ They’d rather have it be boring like football or baseball: ‘OK, now it’s this person’s turn, and now this person’s turn.’ ”

Clark’s been following the Coyotes since 1998, going to maybe 20 games a year.

Last year, he convinced his wife, who’s from Chicago, to go to her first game, and now she’s hooked on it.

“It’s definitely a different kind of sport,” Kate Clark said. “I feel like a cat on catnip watching.”

Ashley and Tyler Bowie have lived in Phoenix for 15 years, but bought season tickets for the first time this season to show their support.

“You guys had your chance with the team, however long it was there,” Tyler Bowie said. “There are real hockey fans here. The section we sit in, 213, probably 95% of the people in that section are season-ticket holders.”

Bowie says hockey is buried by competition from the NFL’s Cardinals and baseball’s Diamondbacks, not to mention the NBA’s Suns.

Then there are fans like Jeff and Fran Fries, brothers originally from Buffalo who’ve followed the team since it moved to Phoenix, and who’ve had season tickets the last several years.

Admittedly “obsessed with hockey,” Fran Fries travels across the U.S. and Canada to watch his team.

But he doesn’t plan on watching it go back to Winnipeg.

“At the beginning of this, when I thought the Coyotes were moving, I thought, well, if they have to move let ’em go to Winnipeg,” he said. “Because that’s where they came from. We took care of the team for you.”

But now that he’s seen some of the shots Winnipeggers are taking at Phoenix online, Fries has his back up.

“They mock us for it,” he said. “Winnipeg lost their team to begin with. Let’s give ’em an expansion team. Let’s have a good Jets-Coyotes rivalry. We’ll give you the name back. We own the name and the logo, you can have it back.”

Actually, the NHL owns the name and logo.

But thanks for the offer.

I’m pretty sure we’re not going to need your permission, anyway.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.

Twitter.com/friesensunmedia


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