Saturday night the Phoenix Coyotes defied all odds and did the improbable: not only make the playoffs but win their division.
The Phoenix Coyotes clinched the Pacific Division crown on the last game of the season, winning their final five games to seal the title. Holding true to form for a hockey club in the desert, this was the organization’s first title in team history, even going back to when it was the Winnipeg Jets.
It’s hard to write a story like the Coyotes. This is a team that has been without an owner for three seasons, run instead by the NHL office bent on keeping hockey next to the Saguaros. The story of the team’s ownership saga has twists and turns more befitting a Telemundo melodrama than a professional sports franchise. Their payroll ranks 20th out of 30 teams. Attendance is dead last at 12,400 per game, almost 1,000 behind the New York Islanders who finished the season 4th from the bottom in points.
Aside from the institutional disadvantages, the team has also faced their fair share of adversity this season. The team’s injury sheet isn’t as long as fellow postseason participants St. Louis, Chicago and Vancouver, but they came at inopportune times and to the squad’s best players. The team also had a six-week span before the All-Star break where it covered 28,000 miles.
Against everything, they persevered. Nothing captures everything the team went through more than the embrace after the game between Mike Smith and Shane Doan. There’s a sense of finality to the hug as both recognize the hurdles they crossed to reach this point. But it also looked like each recognized that as much as winning the division means, it’s more the beginning than the end.
I live more than 1,500 miles from the team’s arena, and I felt nothing but excitement for the Coyotes and what they could do. What they’ve done is nothing short of remarkable. It’s been a dream season thus far for a team I’ve continued to root for since Gerald Diduck was my across-the-street neighbor.
For the team, let’s hope the dream continues a little while longer.
Image source: coyotes.nhl.com