On Sunday afternoon, professional hockey officially made its return to Tucson.
The Arizona Coyotes held their Red-White scrimmage in the Tucson Convention Center Arena in front of thousands of hockey fans in the Old Pueblo, and raised money for the University of Arizona club program at the same time.
“It was a great way to kick it off here,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said after the game. “We’d like to get an exhibition game down here, but this year, the schedules were taken care of, so we thought we’d have a Red-White game to bring people out and show ‘em what we’re all about here.”
Admission was free for the scrimmage, but donations were asked for, and all of those proceeds went straight to U of A hockey. The event raised $9,000 in total, and the team was recognized during the second intermission, and was greeted by a huge cheer.
UA head coach Chad Berman addressed the crowd, and even tantalized fans with the prospect of a Division-1 team, saying he expects several Pac-12 schools to join ASU at that level.
And maybe this game will kick off what Arizona Athletics needs to see to take that move seriously.
“It was excellent,” Tippett added about the atmosphere. “You never know how many people are going to show up, but to have probably over 3,000 come and it was great for the U of A hockey team also with the donations there, so it was a win-win for our organization and for the kickoff in Tucson.”
“I thought the atmosphere was really good,” Roadrunners head coach Mark Lamb tacked on. “You don’t know what to expect, but I thought the gameday with the cleaning of the ice, the referees, the scoreboard, the announcer, I thought it was all excellent.”
At first, the Coyotes weren’t expected to bring their stars down for the game, but almost all the big names were in attendance and suited up, including Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Radim Vrbata, Max Domi, Martin Hanzal and more. Just about the only guy missing was Mike Smith.
“It was great,” Doan said of the team coming to Tucson. “It was pretty full. There were a lot of people here, they were into it, and people were enjoying it and that was the whole point of it.”
“It was nice to get a game here,” Roadrunner right wing Conor Garland added. “Obviously the crowd was great. The stadium looks beautiful and it’ll be a great place to play.”
Right away, those big names that made the trip south were right in the middle of things, as Vrbata scored the scrimmage’s first goal with an assist going to Domi.
Max Domi - Radim Vrbata = 1-0 lead for Team Red! pic.twitter.com/pS64RoUxfL— #Roadrunners (@RoadrunnersAHL) October 9, 2016
Doan had previously played in Tucson for an exhibition game in 1997. The TCC looks a little different (better) than those days, but Doan said it was similar to 19 years ago.
“It was a little different than it is now,” explained Doan. “Norm Maciver was with me, and I was young just down here enjoying it, trying to make the team. But it was a similar atmosphere. The fans were involved then and involved now.”
Shane Doan continues to live up to his reputation as a class act! He is a true ambassador for the Arizona Coyotes! pic.twitter.com/gxsx4Nzfc0— UA Wildcat Hockey (@UAWildcatHockey) October 10, 2016
The Coyotes actually stayed in Tucson Sunday night and had some team bonding time scheduled for this mini road trip.
“We’re staying here,” explained Tippett. “We had our whole staff and the players from Tucson and wives and trainers and everybody; we’re having a team dinner tonight with both teams involved. It’s just a good way to kick off the season for both teams.”
“I think it’s good for both teams to get to know each other and get comfortable with each other as we go forward,” Doan added about using this trip as a bonding experience. “It takes so many guys to be successful at the NHL level.”
Doan also happens to turn 40 on Monday, or so the rumor goes.
“I didn’t know it was my 40th,” the captain joked. “Yeah, obviously that’s one of those things that goes by quickly.”
Hopefully he had a good start to his birthday in Tucson, and that his presence in this game will kickstart big things for the sport of hockey in the Old Pueblo.