May 8, 2012
Coyotes find life in the desert
By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
GLENDALE, ARIZ. - The chant started as the team teams lined up at centre ice to shake hands at Jobing.com Arena.
"Beat L.A., beat L.A ..."
It summed up a situation that was unlikely on a bunch of different levels.
Here were Phoenix Coyotes fans, packing the arena in May, chanting for their team to beat the Los Angeles Kings -- an eighth seed -- in the third round.
The Coyotes -- a team many people thought would have been on the move by now, maybe to Quebec City -- still are playing hockey in the desert and buoyed by the news that talks are progressing that would see the team sold and remain in Arizona.
The fans started chanting as the players shook hands after the Coyotes ousted Nashville in five games. Phoenix, which has advanced out of the second round for the first time in franchise history, will face the Kings in the Western Conference final.
No one has more of an appreciation for the situation than Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the veteran who goes back to 1995-96 when they were the Winnipeg Jets. He knows of years and years of early exits.
"It's pretty special," Doan said. "I've watched a lot of people shake hands in May and have never been able to be one of them, so it was fun to be in there and doing it."
Doan had an assist on the Coyotes' first goal in their 2-1 win Monday night. After the game he stood in front of his stall in the dressing room long after all his teammates had left, still in his skates, doing one more interview, accepting the well wishes of some lingering visitors.
"It's even more fun to be carrying on and getting to keep playing. I've got some good friends on that team and you wish you could play them in the next round, but someone had to go home and it was nice to be on the right side," he said.
Now the Coyotes will play the Kings, themselves in the conference final for the first time since 1993.
This is something new for the NHL, no Detroit Red Wings, no Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks or Vancouver Canucks still playing in May.
It's new, the desert against the Left Coast. Two teams that have one visit to the conference final between them in a combined 76 seasons.
"I know the (NBA's Phoenix) Suns and the (Los Angeles) Lakers have a pretty good rivalry," Doan said.
"I'm sure it will carry over to our sport. It's going to be a fun series. You look at what (Drew) Doughty, (Jonathan) Quick, (Dustin) Brown, (Anze) Kopitar and (Mike) Richards have done (for the Kings). Their lineup has been phenomenal, getting contributions from everybody.
"We're going to have to raise our game to match them because they have walked through everybody."
These are good times in Glendale and who thought we would ever be saying that?
The news Monday that the NHL is pursuing a purchase agreement to sell the club, which it has owned for three years, to a group fronted by former Sharks executive Greg Jamison should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism given a couple of earlier deals have gone off the rails.
Certainly that's the way Doan is approaching it.
"As a group, we're optimistic, but until someone comes in here and tells me, 'I'm your owner,' and I get to shake his hand, it's going to be pretty low key. We'll stay focusing on hockey," he said.
"We've grown to be pretty callous to the outside stuff. It doesn't affect us. We've just got to keep playing hockey. When it comes down to it, we'll find out one way or the other."
For now, there's reason for optimism, on and off the ice.
As improbable as it sounds, these are good times in Glendale.