Silence was replaced by sweat, heat gave way to howling and a long summer seemed like a faded memory as the Coyotes returned to Jobing.com Arena on Saturday with CoyotesFest – the fourth annual interactive Coyotes festival and ultimate fan experience.
The final stop of the 2008 Coyotes’ Caravan gave the thousands in attendance the opportunity to scratch their ice-deprived itch with four hours of fan-friendly events. Many immediately made their way down to the lower bowl upon arrival to catch a sneak peak at the players for the upcoming season. The players – in the midst of training camp – took to the ice for a practice session, featuring a mix of old favorites and new, up-and-coming talent. The team challenged one another during an intra-squad scrimmage that showed off the competitive spirit the Coyotes expect to play with in 2008-09.
Those looking for more personal interaction with this season’s squad needed not look far as players were stationed all around the arena, including a photograph booth on the main concourse and autograph tables in the Comerica Club. It was the chance to meet so many of their favorite players in one place that drew fans throughout the Valley to Glendale, including Steven Berlin of Gilbert.
“We’re huge fans and hockey is our life, it’s our favorite sport,” said Berlin, who came to CoyotesFest with his wife and daughter. “We eat, sleep and dream hockey, so we had to come out today and meet the players.”
For others, such as Courtney Donahue of Wickenburg, waiting in line for autographs was a labor of love not for themselves, but for someone special. Donahue came to CoyotesFest with a jersey to be signed and given to her fiancée, who is serving in the military and stationed in Italy.
“He doesn’t know I’m here today,” Donahue said. “He loves hockey and he’s going to love this so much. He’s going to enjoy this jersey tremendously. I’m definitely not mailing it or checking it in baggage. It’s going on a plane with me.”
It was all fun and games down in the Toyota Club as Coyotes’ play-by-play radio announcer Bob Heethuis and new radio color analyst – and former Coyotes player – Tyson Nash hosted a series of game shows. Among those tapping into their inner contestant were Coyotes captain Shane Doan
, Ed Jovanovski and Derek Morris
. The long-time Coyotes’ teammates battled wits with one another in trivia about themselves, testing who knew the most about each other off the ice – to the amusement of the “studio audience.”
The youngest fans in attendance also had plenty of fur-flying fun at CoyotesFest as the top dog of NHL mascots hosted Howler’s Kids Club Zone, complete with games and entertainment geared towards children and visits by some of the team’s up-and-coming stars, such as Kids Club captain Kyle Turris.
Other highlights included a garage sale benefiting Coyotes Charities, featuring game-used sticks, signed pucks and other Coyotes merchandise, a hardest slap shot contest and a used hockey equipment drive, supporting youth hockey around the state.
However much fun fans had at CoyotesFest, the biggest smiles came from the simple thought that Coyotes hockey is right around the corner. The puck drops on the home preseason schedule on Saturday, Sept. 27 when the team hosts the Anaheim Ducks, followed by the San Jose Sharks on Monday, Sept. 29 and the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, Oct. 4. Opening night of the regular season is Saturday, Oct. 11 when the Coyotes play the Columbus Blue Jackets at Jobing.com Arena.