There’s no denying it anymore. The game of ice hockey is growing in Arizona at a rapid pace. Two of the first six picks in this year’s NHL Draft grew up in Scottsdale. Arizona State is successfully making the transition to the NCAA D-1 level. And the Arizona Coyotes have already set a location for a new arena in the Phoenix area.
Now we have a professional team in Tucson, as the Coyotes have relocated their AHL affiliate to the Tucson Convention Center. They join a team that has played at TCC for a long time now, the University of Arizona club hockey team.
With the newly named Tucson Roadrunners moving in, TCC’s facilities are required to undergo expansions and improvements to meet AHL standards. This will mean a whole lot for more than just the Roadrunners.
"U of A is going to benefit from the finances coming in from the (City of Tucson)," Coyotes CEO Anthony LeBlanc explained. "They’re going to get new locker rooms, new team spaces, and so, across the board, I think this is a win."
The financial impact will be felt with more than just improved facilities. On October 9th, the Coyotes will hold a scrimmage in TCC featuring the NHL and AHL rosters intermixed. While the game will be free admission, the club is asking fans to make a $5 donation, with all of that money going to the UA club program.
"We plan on being a help to the financial aspect," LeBlanc continued. "We want to help them with other revenue opportunities as they come up because we want them to be successful. It’s all part of growing the game, especially in a non-traditional market. We have to do everything we can to grow the game, and U of A is just another way to do that."
"But if you get to share a building with a professional hockey team and a bunch of kids that have been drafted into the NHL, it’s kind of the osmosis of being around those types of individuals."
"If you’re a member of the University of Arizona hockey program, you’re going to be excited. We want to make sure it’s a vibrant program that is successful long term."
When asked flatly if the Coyotes will push for the Wildcats to join ASU in the NCAA ranks, LeBlanc had this to say:
"I’d love to see them go D-1 just like ASU, but that’s way outside my realm of responsibility."
In the days after ASU announced they would be moving their hockey team up to the NCAA level, Greg Byrne said that doing something similar at Arizona was not on his radar. But this could change things at least a little bit.
"That all comes down to money," LeBlanc expanded on his thoughts on UA making a leap up. "I know from the ASU perspective, it required significant support from donors ($31 million), but I do know that the Pac-12 would love to see more of their schools go Division-1. I’ve heard rumors and rumblings of U of A looking to become a Division-1 school, but the club hockey program they’re putting out there is pretty darn good."
"It just brings more people thinking about the game," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett added about what ASU’s move did. "You have a college team that has now gone to Division-1 and they’re playing games in our arena. It just continues to grow the game in Arizona, and they’ve done a really good job with their program."
"I think it should be very much similar," Tippett added about how U of A’s partnership with the Roadrunners would compare to ASU’s with the Coyotes. "I was lucky enough to go through a bunch of stuff with the planners, and every conversation we had, the University of Arizona was included in those conversations with the dressing rooms, facilities, and the partnership."
"The partnership should be great for both teams."