TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sally Wolfert and Jimmie Lister had been here from the beginning.

Each had attended the first home game Oct. 10, 1996, when the team was known as the Phoenix Coyotes and played at America West Arena. Each had been a season-ticket holder for 27 seasons, sticking with the team through so much on and off the ice.

Now they were standing at center ice for the ceremonial face-off before the Arizona Coyotes’ 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena on Wednesday, expecting this to be the last NHL game in Arizona for at least a few years.

It was awesome to be out there between Coyotes forward Clayton Keller and Oilers center Connor McDavid. It was awful.

“I am sad,” Wolfert said. “I am on the verge of tears, because it’s like a death in the family. There’s a loss. … Something else will fill those evenings. But it’s like an end of something, and it’s always sad when something ends.”

Coyotes fan at last game

Amid multiple ownership groups, arenas, arena proposals and even a bankruptcy, the NHL has felt Arizona could be a good hockey market. All it needs is the right arena in the right place.

The Coyotes finished their second season at Mullett Arena, a 4,600-seat rink at Arizona State University intended to be a temporary home while they built a permanent one. Owner Alex Meruelo plans to bid on a piece of land in Phoenix this summer. But at best, a new arena is a few years away, and Utah wants a team.

The fans came to say farewell.

“There’s a lot of disappointed people out there,” said Coyotes rookie forward Josh Doan, the son of Shane Doan, the Coyotes’ all-time leading scorer. “People are upset, and it’s going to hurt. It’s going to sting for a while.

“As a player you want to feel apologetic for everything, but as someone who’s grown up in the Valley (of the Sun) and grown up with it, you kind of feel the pain as well. … You just focus on the game, enjoy the last game, and who knows what’s going to happen down the road? For now, the Coyotes are Arizona’s team for one more day, so you just embrace it.”

There were homemade signs against the glass during warmup. “STAY OR LEAVE WE WILL FOLLOW.” “THANKS FOR 27 SEASONS OF MEMORIES.” “I WILL MISS YOU!” “Yotes 4 ever!” “HOWL.”

Coyotes fan with sign last game

There were jerseys of Coyotes players past and present. Shane Doan. Daniel Briere. Tony Amonte. Jeremy Roenick. Mike Gartner. Nick Schmaltz. Lawson Crouse. Keller, of course.

“It’s just a special place in my heart, and there were a lot of emotions, for sure, just thinking about the future,” said Keller, the Coyotes’ leading scorer, who has spent his entire eight-season NHL career in Arizona. “It’s the last one at least for a little bit in Arizona, so yeah, we wanted to have a good effort and show that to the fans.”

The atmosphere was not funereal. After Lister dropped the ceremonial first puck, the game felt like, well, a game. Coyotes fans roared for goals. So did the large contingent of Oilers fans. The fans did the wave and gave Shane Doan a standing ovation.

They stood, chanted and cheered as the clock counted down to the final horn. The players embraced head equipment manager Stan Wilson, who has been with the Coyotes since the original Winnipeg Jets moved here, and wiped away tears on the bench. Then they gathered at center ice, raised their sticks in appreciation and took a team picture.

Finally, the players gave the fans the shirts off their backs, and the fans lined up to take pictures on the ice.

“I did really want our players to play a hell of a game for our fans,” coach Andre Tourigny said. “It’s a place we really enjoyed, the Valley here. The fans were great. We enjoyed living here. We enjoyed being here. The coaches, the management, the players, everybody wanted to finish that on a positive note and give a really, really strong effort to our fans. I’m really proud, against a top team, the way we showed up.”

Coyotes fans final game 1

Still, for the diehards, it was difficult. Wolfert and Lister each came to games with their families. Their kids got into hockey. Some of them played it.

“You can watch it on TV, but when you’re there, you hear the sound,” Lister said. “You watch the plays. You watch the strategy. Kids take that to heart, and it really resonates with them. And then for families, it’s a great a time to spend together. For me, I can’t thank the Coyotes enough, because it’s time I was able to spend with the rest of the family. It’s something that you can’t put a price tag on.

“We definitely will miss this experience, and it’s too bad they have to go. But I love this sport, and I always will. It’s just too bad the Coyotes won’t be here.”

Maybe someday the arena problem will be solved.

“We’ll be there,” Wolfert said. “I’ll be signing up again. I’ll miss the boys, but in five years, things will look different, and we’ll be happy to welcome hockey back again. I love it.” independent correspondent Alan Robinson contributed to this report

Coyotes show their gratitude to the fans

Related Content