Phoenix Coyotes Make Finals For First Time Ever

May 8, 2012
Originally published on May 9, 2012 6:07 pm
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Sports talk is loaded with hyperbole. This is not hyperbole: Yesterday was the biggest day in the history of the Phoenix Coyotes. The often abysmal NHL team defeated the Nashville Predators last night and advanced to the conference finals for the first time ever. And three years after the team's last owner declared bankruptcy, the league announced that it likely has found a new owner, one that will keep the team in the area.

For more on the Coyotes' reversal of fortune, we're joined by Paola Boivin. She is a sports columnist for the Arizona Republic. Welcome.

PAOLA BOIVIN: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: So let's get down to it. What is going on with this team? Why are they suddenly looking good on the ice?

BOIVIN: Well, a couple of things have happened, but I think the biggest thing is that they hired a general manager in Don Maloney several years ago, who really knows the NHL. You know, with the NHL ownership, there were real restrictions about how much this organization could spend, but I think Don Maloney picked guys who really connected in the locker room, a real good mix of veterans and young players. And, if you walk in that locker room, it's pretty amazing, the relationships. And I know that sounds so corny sometimes, but it has made such a difference with this team. There are no superstars.

But, because there are no superstars, every player truly believes he has to step up and he has a role and it has served them well this season on the ice.

CORNISH: So, obviously, fans in Phoenix must be really excited, but are they also, you know, surprised or stunned?

BOIVIN: Yeah. You know, it's been such an interesting thing here because the entire stay and tenure of this team in Phoenix, there's been a cloud of disappointment, fear, what's going to happen to this team? There's always been a threat of moving, so it's really been difficult for this community to connect with this team because they didn't want to be jilted, so fans have been excited, but you can see it growing now. Now that there's a real belief that this team is going to stick around, now that this team is playing great and this is probably the most likeable and approachable group of athletes I've been around in my very long career and the community is picking up on that.

CORNISH: So three years, this team has been controlled by the NHL. I mean, why has it taken so long for the league to find a potential owner?

BOIVIN: Because, you know, the reality is many sports franchises lose money. You have to have someone buy a professional team that's not in it to make a profit. So I think they really had to find someone who had a love of hockey and, you know, certainly in the United States, that's not something you'll necessarily find. So it certainly just took them some time to find the right people, but they really feel confident, I think, with Greg Jamison, the potential owner, that this is going to get done probably within the next few weeks.

CORNISH: Now, I don't want to rain on the parade for Phoenix, but even though they're having a good moment, the team has been near the bottom in attendance for a decade. I mean, is there any sense of whether a team can actually thrive there in the long term?

BOIVIN: Yeah. You know, it's a fair question because they have really struggled with fans, even when they were winning. I think there's two things that we'll see happening. I think one, as I mentioned before, with the knowledge that this team is going to stick around once the new owner comes, people will be more committed.

But the other thing is, because they've never had much money and part of the time they've been owned by the NHL, they've never been able to do a really great job of marketing. And the reality here in the Phoenix area is that there are a lot of people from Canada who come here in the winter. There's a lot of people from Canada who move here permanently. And the Canadians - bless their hearts - love hockey and will be willing to buy a lot of tickets. And I think they're really going to try to tap into that fan base through marketing, which they just really haven't been able to do very well in the past.

CORNISH: Paola, thank you for talking with us.

BOIVIN: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Paola Boivin is a sports columnist for the Arizona Republic.



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