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Moving AHL Team to Tucson is 'Game Changer' for Coyotes

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes

TUCSON – By moving their newly purchased American Hockey League affiliate to Tucson, the Coyotes are making a major improvement in the way they manage and mentor personnel.

Anthony LeBlanc in Tucson. Photo by Norm Hall.

“This move is about a philosophy and a culture of doing a better job of developing our players,” Coyotes President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said. “This is all about bringing the organization closer together. It’s a holistic approach. That’s really how we’re looking at it. The AHL team will be a part of the Coyotes – not an offshoot or something that’s going to be focused on every once in while. This is going to be a key part of the growth of the franchise and moving the big club into next phase.”

With their top affiliate based about 130 miles down Interstate-10, the Hockey Operations staff will have the ability to closely monitor and guide their top prospects and easily incorporate their AHL players into the NHL team when needed.

In past years, the team’s AHL affiliate was located in the northeast, in cities such as Springfield, Mass., and Portland, Maine, making it challenging to maintain a highly efficient working relationship. And once other teams in the NHL’s Western Conference began moving their affiliates west last season, the Coyotes realized they needed to do the same to keep up.

The AHL’s Pacific Division is comprised of teams affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. To join the division, the Coyotes needed to buy an existing team and move it west, which they did when they purchased the Springfield Falcons and brought them to Tucson.

“Because of the proximity between the Valley and Tucson there will be greater collaboration between the two teams,” said Head Coach Dave Tippett, who spoke with his counterparts within the NHL’s Pacific Division about having their AHL teams so close. “Everybody I talked to with the other teams said it was a very positive experience having their prospects so close. There are so many advantages from a logistics standpoint what with our AHL team just and hour and a half down the road. We now have the ability to really keep track of each other, much more so than we’ve been able to do in the past. It’s also going to give us great roster flexibility and the ability to flip players in and out of our lineup with ease. For example, if we’re at home and we have a late injury, we’ll be able to get a player here in a hurry.”

Tucson Convention Center

Other advantages include the ability of the Coyotes to share resources – such as a skating coach or the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator – with the AHL team. Playing in Tucson also will give young players a preview of the lifestyle in the southwest so there is no culture shock if/when they reach the NHL team. And being so close to the Coyotes should also serve as extra motivation for players to perform well enough to reach the NHL team; they’ll be watching Coyotes games on TV and likely attending some games when their AHL schedule allows.

Arizona’s AHL team will play its home games at the Tucson Convention Center, which seats about 6,700 fans for hockey.

Coyotes General Manager John Chayka said he plans to attend games when the Coyotes schedule allows.

“We’ll be there regularly, whether it’s our management staff or our coaching staff or our support staff,” Chayka said. “Everyone is going to be integrated fully, and I think the opposite of that is also true. If they get a break in their schedule they can come see us. We ‘re trying to create that culture of inclusiveness and family, and that we’re all in this together, pulling the same rope.”

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