If the never-ending relocation rumors surrounding the Arizona Coyotes – which have gone on so long that when it started, the franchise was known as the ‘Phoenix’ Coyotes – have caused you to lose your faith in the future of the game of hockey in Arizona, nobody blames you.
But you might need to reconsider given recent information.
All signs point to a hockey boom in the desert, if it hasn’t started already. The Coyotes, while they haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, have as bright a future as any team across the NHL with a loaded stable of young talent. Arizona State went online as a varsity program last year. The AHL sent a team to the desert last spring, when the Coyotes AHL affiliate moved to Tucson from Springfield, Mass. You may have heard by now of Auston Matthews, the pride of Scottsdale selected first overall in this past NHL Draft, and wasted no time making waves with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
So you get the point. The sport has slowly grown in the state since the NHL went there in 1996 and is now proving to be an antithesis of the ‘NHL won’t work in warm weather cities’ argument.
The latest development in the process of growing the sport in Arizona came on Monday when plans were unveiled on a joint venture between the Coyotes and ASU to build a hockey complex in Tempe that would house the NHL franchise and NCAA program. The complex would feature a 16,000-seat arena abutted by a 4,000-seat rink.
The Coyotes, marred for years by poor attendance playing in hard-to-get-to Glendale, have been reported to be looking to move to the East Valley, where much of its fanbase resides. There had been many reports in recent months of the franchise exploring options in and around Scottsdale.
Should the latest reported plan come to fruition – and there’s plenty of hurdles to clear for that to happen, the biggest of which being city and state support, as outlined by the Arizona Republic, the complex would be the de facto hockey capital of Arizona.
By the time it opens – early estimates are fall of 2019 – the Coyotes should be closer to contention if not there already. Led by an exciting, young core that includes Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dylan Strome, Anthony Duclair, Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller, and Jakob Chychrun, the ‘Yotes should be one of funner teams to watch in the NHL. Arizona State will be farther into its quest to become a top-line Division 1 program.
To put the two programs – the Coyotes and Sun Devils – into one complex amidst of the pulse of Arizona can only help the growth of the game in the state, which has only been enhanced with the Coyotes run to the Western Conference finals in 2012, the addition of a NCAA Division 1 program, and the emergence of one its finest sons in Matthews.
And let us not forget the AHL franchise in Tucson, as well as the possibility of the University of Arizona following in the footsteps of ASU and going online as a varsity hockey team, as has been tossed around from time to time while nothing concrete has ever come of it.
What does appear to be concrete is the Coyotes move to the East Valley, which seems all but imminent at this point, a matter of when as opposed to if.
Meanwhile, you can go ahead and put the odds of a hockey boom in Arizona right up there with the probability of Matthews making his home state proud by reaching stardom in the NHL.