The Coyotes were introduced to a new community in El Paso, Sunday night, in a highly entertaining preseason game against the Dallas Stars.
The game featured nine goals and three fights and Arizona fell, 6-3, though the game remained tied until the midpoint of the third period. The game, played at the El Paso County Events Center, was in celebration of the City of El Paso, which was voted "Hockeyville, USA," in a contest organized by Kraft Heinz and the NHL.
The rink, which houses the El Paso Rhinos and the El Paso Hockey Association, sported $150,000 worth of upgrades and hosted a capacity crowd of roughly 2,800.
"It was awesome," said Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse. "(The fans) were very energetic on both sides, for both teams. I think it's a really good thing for the town of El Paso for us to hopefully put on a good show for them and keep them engaged in the game. I think that's what our ultimate goal was."
The setting and atmosphere were a bit atypical for a preseason -- or any -- NHL game.
"I was talking to (Coyotes center Jay Beagle) after the game, and we thought it was great," Coyotes head coach Andre Tourigny said. "A small rink. The fans were really close to the players. It was a great experience."
El Paso native Donna Herndon, a season-ticket holder for the El Paso Rhinos junior hockey teams, has been attending games in the Sun City dating back to the late 90s El Paso Buzzards of the Western Professional Hockey League and Central Hockey League.
"(This game) means the world to El Paso," Herndon said. "So, El Paso can get noticed. We're a gem in the desert, and no one could ever think that we could have something as big as this. It's amazing."
Herndon continued: "It's just really - it's a neat experience for us to have the recognition. That a small town on the border can pull something off like this and have everybody come from all over the United States and Canada to see our little town and see our rink. We have the best fans here. That's what I'm proud of, our fans did this."
NHL Executive Vice President of Marketing Brian Jennings was in attendance and underscored the importance of the weekend's festivities.
"Kraft Hockeyville is one of our grassroots events where you really feel how special (hockey) is to the community," Jennings said. "The repairs to these rinks are so critical because they are such hubs to these communities. Having a preseason game here, and certainly having the Coyotes and Stars in this market, means so much to the fans. When we pick up and leave, what's left behind will be so special for the community. Everybody gets a chance to enjoy it, especially the Rhinos (hockey programs)."
Sunday's game at El Paso County Events Center was the closest proximity to Mexico ever for an NHL game. Jennings believes this event continues to show proof that hockey has no boundaries.
"We're debunking the (regional) myth every day," Jennings said. "Hockey is a growing sport around the world, and these are the types of initiatives that help that. These are the proof points, and we think that we're going to be doing this for many, many years to come.
"The whole thing about reaching out and building your fan base is really reaching into new areas, new audiences, making sure hockey is welcoming, making sure it's diverse. Maybe there's a young kid in the stands capturing the excitement and the speed and gets inspired by Kraft Hockeyville and the NHL and the teams that are participating. We think that's a great gift."
Speaking of kids, Crouse said Sunday's atmosphere brought him back to his youth.
"It kind of reminded me of being a kid again," Crouse said. "Even having a pregame skate this morning with all the fans here. It was a lot of fun. It was very enjoyable for us all. Obviously, (the game didn't have) the outcome we wanted, but all in all, we had a good time here.
"Hockey's a great game. We want to allow as many people to play it as we can. Kraft and the NHL have done a great job of doing this."
Photos Credit: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes