x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Coyotes avoid extinction

Sam McCaig tips his hat to a Phoenix team that rose from financial crises to progress in the NHL play-offs.

Phoenix used the us-against-the-world sentiment to succeed in the regular season.
Phoenix used the us-against-the-world sentiment to succeed in the regular season.

Not only were the Phoenix Coyotes not expected to be in the 2010 NHL play-offs, there was serious doubt as to whether they would still be in Phoenix in 2010. Flash back to last summer, when the franchise endured bankruptcy proceedings, court battles between potential owners and the league, and the revelation that the NHL had taken over the Coyotes from a financial perspective - the previous February in order to keep the club afloat.

There were no fans, no hope and surely no future for hockey in Phoenix. The team had no stars beyond Shane Doan, their heart-and-soul leader, and Ilya Bryzgalov, the under-rated goalie, and free agents took one look at the awful off-ice situation and skated like Alex Ovechkin in the opposite direction. Play-offs? Are you kidding? Anyone who could tell the difference between a puck and a golf ball knew the Coyotes were destined for a last-place finish, and then would be uprooted and relocated to a more hockey-friendly market.

But the doom and gloom outside the dressing room was not enough to discourage the team's leaders on the inside. Doan, Ed Jovanovski, the defenceman, and a couple of other veterans used the us-against-the-world approach as a rallying cry. Dave Tippett, a former NHL journeyman, replaced the legendary Wayne Gretzky as their coach and immediately installed a defensive system. The Coyotes jumped out to a surprisingly fast start and never looked back.

A franchise-record 50 victories and 107 points later, Phoenix had secured fourth place in the top-heavy Western Conference, earning home ice for the first round of the play-offs an event the team had not been a part of since 2002. When the team skated out to a packed house for Game 1 against the two-time defending West champion Detroit, it did not matter that the Coyotes' long-term future was still up in the air. The team already had won more than a mere hockey game; the fact that Phoenix were able to send the fans home on the wings of a 3-2 victory made it the best night in Phoenix professional hockey history.

So far, anyway. sports@thenational.ae