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Bubble Life Ain't Bad: Coyotes First Impressions

Feeling 'at home', insight on player amenities, and how the Coyotes are dressing to impress in Edmonton

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Although now isolated, the Coyotes wanted the players to feel at home at Sutton Place Hotel in Edmonton.

Each player was greeted with a surprise -- framed photos of loved ones: wives, parents, children, siblings, girlfriends. Many Coyotes have been separated from family since the start of training camp. The team's "bubble" stay in Edmonton could extend into October.

Derek Stepan said goodbye to his wife and two children when he returned to the desert from Minnesota in early July.

"We walked into our rooms and we all had loved ones sitting next to our beds," Stepan said. "I've been away from my family now for about four weeks and I miss them a lot. But it was good to see their smiling faces."

The general feeling among the players, as Stepan said: "It was a nice little touch."

The finale of their first full day in Edmonton was a team dinner at Wayne Gretzky's "Studio 99" restaurant, attached to Rogers Place, the arena that will host Western Conference playoff games. 

"Dinners are always fun with this group," Conor Garland said. "We always seem to kill time pretty easily. The road trips are some of my favorite times of the year, and obviously this is an extended trip, here. We're just enjoying everybody's company."

After dinner, the team relaxed in its private lounge, also located inside Rogers Place. 

It's their oasis inside the bubble.

"There were a lot of us in the lounge yesterday," Garland said. "Just talking, hanging out, playing cards, doing whatever we usually do. We have a great group of guys." 

The team also has a suite to relax and watch other games. The players plan on taking full advantage of it, defenseman Jakob Chychrun said.

"We didn't even realize (at first), but every team has their own suite in the rink to watch playoff games," he said. "So, I'm sure guys will be heading over there, and we'll be able to watch in person instead of TV. I'm sure guys will be going over and watching. It seems like you run into people from different teams every day, so you're certainly going to want to watch them and see how they're doing. It's a pretty cool setup to have your own suite. Or you can walk over and just watch a playoff game in person. It's a pretty cool setup."

It will provide a unique opportunity for many NHL players to attend games as spectators. 

"It seems like you run into people from different teams every day," Chychrun said. "So, you're certainly going to want to watch them and see how they're doing."

Garland noted that many players, including himself, can pick up hints and tendencies of other players from TV. But he also is looking forward to this different perspective.

"We have a lot of talented players in our conference in the playoffs here right in front of us," he said. "So, it'll be nice to go over there and watch some of those games, see some of those guys you looked up to growing up. Just watching them in person for the first time, really." 

The Coyotes got their first peek of the set-up at Rogers Place on Monday night. The unique, fan-less arrangement has been teased on social media and is being tested Tuesday during the first exhibition games. The Coyotes will play their first exhibition game on Thursday against the Golden Knights.

"We saw the set-up, it's pretty cool actually," said Chychrun. "I didn't really know what to expect, but it's actually pretty cool. It's just something that we're going to have to get used to pretty quick, but I don't think that should be an issue for us. We've got a great group. We'll bring the energy that we're going to need to bring. The rink's cool, so I think it'll be fun." 

The unique environment of the playoff format reminds Rick Tocchet of his youth hockey days, when tournament teams all stayed in the same hotel.

"The only difference (here) is, I haven't seen us playing mini sticks in the hallway yet. But maybe by Day 5 the guys might get bored and have a mini stick tournament, that'd be kind of fun."

Garland feels that vibe, too.

"I said that yesterday during a walk back," he noted. "I remember I used to go to a tournament in Rochester and everybody would walk on with their team pins on their shirts, and that's how you would identify a guy. That's the only difference. None of us have our pins on."

For Garland, road trips always involve a visit to a local coffee shop. As for the java scene in Edmonton? Well, he's restricted.

"It's whatever the hotel has," he said with a chuckle. "I had a big shipment of Harmon Coffee to my house in Arizona this last month, so that's what I was drinking the last month during training camp. But here, it's whatever the hotel has." 

The hotel may be missing Garland's top shelf choice in coffee, but they're certainly impressing the Coyote head coach.

"The hotel people, they're terrific," Tocchet said. "They do a great job for us. There are about six teams here in our hotel. There's a lot of moving parts. They're doing a nice job and the players are being taken care of."

Comfort is top priority for the Coyotes, too. They all received a care package of team-branded Lululemon apparel to wear to and from the rink, and have been seen sporting shirts adorned with the team's new #HowlYeah playoff marketing campaign.

Said Chychrun, of the team's #HowlYeah campaign in Edmonton: "It's great to have something to rally around. It's great for our fans and I know they love it on social media. So, anytime you can do something like that to rally the fans and rally Arizona, I think it's great. We're excited about it, we're going to continue to wear it and support it, and hopefully keep it going."

Dressed for success.

Lead Photo Credit: Screenshot via Arizona Coyotes Production // Footer Photo Credit: Screenshot via @NHL Twitter

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