Lockout sucks the momentum out of Coyotes' playoff thrill

Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Keith Yandle (3) celebrates his 2nd period goal against the Los Angeles...

Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Keith Yandle (3) celebrates his 2nd period goal against the Los Angeles Kings during Game 5 of the NHL Western Conference hockey finals in Glendale, Arizona, May 22, 2012. (REUTERS)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:57 PM ET

The Phoenix Coyotes were actually cruising -- top down, volume cranked, playoff beards blowing in the wind, gaining speed from the kind of packed-house energy and momentum they'd been coveting for years.

Even those vultures that always seemed to be circling overhead had trouble keeping up with the thrilling, three-round playoff convoy.

So imagine how tough it is for Dave Tippett to leave that vehicle sitting abandoned in the desert while the NHL shuts down for the seemingly impossible task of dividing $3.3 billion fairly.

"It's disappointing for us, we were looking to use some of the momentum from last year's playoff run and winning the division to get off to a good start this year," said the Coyotes coach, who was ready to start this season the morning after last season ended with a Western Conference final loss to Los Angeles.

"There was a lot of excitement and a lot of enthusiasm in the city and you'd like to be in a position where you can get a little bump from it. Obviously all that's out now."

Every city has a hard-luck lockout story -- the L.A. Kings' market gain after winning a Stanley Cup has faded, Edmonton isn't getting a chance to see what two more impact rookies can do-- but Phoenix really took one in the gut with the NHL's latest implosion.

A market desperate for some life-saving traction finally had some, and now it's gone.

"There are some real traditional hockey markets where fans will be there rain or shine, but there are some markets where you have to prove that you're worthy of the people's attention, and we're one of those markets," Tippett said. "If you're out of sight and out of mind, or not playing very well, it's like a lot of cities -- you'll go to the back burner."

The Coyotes have been out of sight for six months and counting, long enough to know they'll have to start from scratch when the pucks start dropping.

"When it starts up again you have to get back in the community and you have to play well to get people to come back," Tippett said. "We're going to have to work that much harder to get it going. But if you go on a run, this city will get behind you.

"And you keep hearing that the ownership stuff is moving in the right direction -- hopefully it gets done and we get a bump from that."

The irony is that markets hurt most by the lockout are the very reason there's a lockout in the first place. Montreal, Boston and Toronto would start the season under the old CBA tomorrow if this were only about them. It's Phoenix, Columbus, Nashville and about 10 other non-traditional cities that need financial life preservers.

"The hard-core hockey fans in Phoenix understand that (a lockout) is something nobody wants to see, but it's something that can help the franchise," Tippett said.

In the meantime, he hangs around the office, or the empty practice rink and has regular meetings with his assistant coaches, planning for a season that is too long overdue.

"It wears on you," he said. "When you've been in the game for a long, long time it's instinctive that when September comes around it's time to get going, and when you don't, it's like you walk around lost. It has been a struggle.

"You miss the adrenalin rush of the game and the preparation. You have all these great ideas that wake you up in the middle of the night but you never get to try them. All the planning just sits there."

For how long is anyone's guess. Before the Coyotes can try picking up where they left off, and before those fans in Phoenix decide if they're coming back, the NHL has to come back first.

Tippett is confident the first domino will be falling soon.

"I keep telling my wife 'We're going to play.' She laughs and says 'You said that the whole year we missed last time.'

"I feel like it's different this time, I think we'll play."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/Sun_Tychkowski


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