Going thirsty in the desert

ADAM CLAYTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

New town. New name. Same old story.

Like the Winnipeg Jets, the Phoenix Coyotes haven't had so much as a sniff of the Stanley Cup during their decade in the desert.

While other transplanted teams found immediate success in Denver and Dallas in the mid-'90s, the Coyotes have struggled both on and off the ice and their biggest star -- coach Wayne Gretzky -- is behind the bench.

The Jets didn't win a playoff series in their last nine seasons in Winnipeg and the drought has continued in Arizona. After making the playoffs their first four seasons in Phoenix, the Coyotes have reached the post-season once since 2000 and are the oldest franchise in the NHL to have never reached the Stanley Cup finals. That certainly hasn't helped ticket sales.

FAIR-WEATHER FANS

David Vest, a beat reporter who covers the Coyotes for the Arizona Republic, said many Arizona residents grew up in other parts of the U.S. rooting for different teams and it takes a winning club to keep their interest piqued.

"The Phoenix sports fan is very fickle," he said. "You'll find with most of the teams in Phoenix that if they're not winning consistently the fans really won't come out to see them, other than the hard-core fan base."

The Coyotes were one of the five worst draws in the league for three straight seasons starting in 2000-01 and were among the bottom third of NHL teams in attendance last season. According to published reports, the team hasn't turned a profit since a new ownership group that includes Gretzky bought the team for about $128 million US in 2001.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan, an 18-year-old rookie at the start of the final Winnipeg Jets season, said he never imagined he would be the last remaining Jet on the team or that he would end up playing the bulk of his career in Phoenix.

The city has become home to Doan, his wife Andrea -- who is expecting -- and their three young children.

"It's funny how you end up where you are," he said. "I never in a million years would have dreamed it but this is the way it's worked out. I've been incredibly blessed."

In an unusual move, Jets great Thomas Steen was added to the Coyotes Ring of Honour last January in an effort to recognize the club's past even though the Jets originally retired Steen's No. 25 in May 1995.

Vest said the crowd at Glendale Arena was a bit puzzled by the ceremony because virtually no one had heard of Steen and many had no idea the Coyotes were once the Winnipeg Jets.

"I would venture to say that if you were to poll 10 people from Phoenix and ask them where the Coyotes came from, maybe one or two would know," he said.


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