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'Yotes Notes: A Salute to the 1996-97 Team

Keith Tkachuk dropped the ceremonial first puck on Saturday vs. San Jose

by Dave Vest @davest4yotes / Coyotes Sr. Director of News Content

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  • 02:05 •

GLENDALE -- Celebrating 20 years in Arizona, the Coyotes officially saluted the inaugural 1996-97 team on Saturday night before the game against the San Jose Sharks.

Twelve members of the first Phoenix Coyotes team attended the game inside Gila River Arena, including former captains Keith Tkachuk and Teppo Numminen. The players were introduced, one by one, and then made their way to center ice for the ceremonial puck drop. Tkachuk dropped the puck.

Other players who attended: Mike Stapleton, Norm Maciver, Kris King, Jim McKenzie, Mike Gartner, Oleg Tverdovsky, Dallas Drake, Craig Janney, Cliff Ronning and, of course, Shane Doan. 

The Sharks spoiled the fun by racing to a 3-0 lead en route to a 4-1 victory.

The 1996-97 Phoenix Coyotes posted a 38-37-7 record and made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They lost to Anaheim, four games to three, in the first round.

"It's pretty special to be back here," Tkachuk said before the game. "Looking back, there were a lot of great players who played on that team and we had a great run. We had a 3-2 lead against Anaheim (in the playoffs) so it was kind of a tough ending for us. Overall it was great. The people embraced us when we came here."

Jeremy Roenick could not attend Saturday's game because of his commitments to NBC Sports. Nikolai Khabibulin was absent because of a recent death in his family. 

"We were a really close team," said Numminen, who traveled from Finland to Arizona specifically for the event. "We had a lot of good players and I think the way we got close and tight was because it was a new situation for everybody on the ice and off the ice ... It really was team first, and when you've got talent and everybody plays team first good things happen."

Doan has posed for dozens of puck drop photos in his tenure as captain, but this one was special.

"Having all those guys on the ice was incredible," Doan said. "With Keith's personality, it's just fun having him in the building. It was fun to be able to spend a little time with those guys and be on the ice with them."

Video: Shane Doan discusses Coyotes' 4-1 loss to Sharks

Head Coach Dave Tippett enjoyed the ceremony.

"These guys, I know a lot of them personally," Tippett said. "I've coached or played with six or seven of the guys that were here. You look at the history of this organization ... Those guys are the first guys that came here and talked to fans, brought memories; they were the foundation of this organization. You see they're not just great hockey players, they're really great people."

• Doan, Tkachuk, Numminen, Roenick, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mike Smith were voted the team's All-Time Starting Six by the fans. The team was announced during the pre-game ceremony.

"It's an honor to even be mentioned amongst the players that were out there tonight," Smith said.

NOTE: READ MORE about the All-Time Starting Six

Video: SJS@ARI: Coyotes salute members of original team

• Smith allowed four goals on 33 shots vs. the Sharks. 

"That wasn't my best (game)," Smith said. "I thought our team did a pretty good job tonight to give ourselves a chance to win the game but they were opportunistic in the first period and we couldn't quite capitalize on our chances that we had. When that happens you usually lose ... I wasn't as sharp as I've been this year, that's for sure."

Video: Mike Smith discusses Coyotes' 4-1 loss to Sharks

• How's this for symmetry?

The Phoenix Coyotes beat San Jose, 4-1, in the team's first home game played in Arizona in 1996-97. The Sharks won, 4-1, on Saturday in the game picked to salute the 1996-97 Coyotes.

"It was a fun night, but it would have been way more enjoyable if we'd found a way to be a little bit more exciting as a team," said Doan, who played in both games. "It's disappointing."

• Doan wore a sweater with Gartner's signature on it during Saturday's game.

Long story short, Gartner accidentally signed Doan's regular game sweater as it lay on a table at the reunion staged for the 1996-97 Coyotes on Friday night. Doan decided to wear the sweater in the game despite the mix-up. That's not a bad idea considering Gartner scored 708 NHL goals and is in The Hockey Hall of Fame. 

"It's not too often that you get to have dinner with a Hall of Famer," Doan said with a smile. "He was kind enough to sign the back of my jersey, which I appreciated. I'm keeping that one, for sure."

• Center Martin Hanzal scored Arizona's lone goal, his 15th of the season. He also won 13 of 15 face-offs. 

"I thought we were pretty good in the first period," Hanzal said. "They got, I don't want to say lucky goals, but they scored first and after that it's hard to chase a team like the Sharks. It was tough."

• Forward Radim Vrbata assisted on Hanzal's goal to extend his point streak to five games.

Alex Goligoski notched his 20th assist of the season and is one of just four active defensemen to have compiled eight consecutive 20-assist seasons.

• Defenseman Luke Schenn led the team with six shots on goal and six hits. 

Video: Dave Tippett discusses Coyotes' 4-1 loss to Sharks

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