It was too painful to look back on the good times of this season immediately following the Game 7 loss to Detroit. A tough way to close out the season, but only one team ends the playoffs with a win each year anyway, so it would be foolish not to take a moment and reflect on the truly amazing story we all witnessed in 2009-10.
For me, the 2009-10 campaign started in a courtroom, sitting in those uncomfortable wooden chairs (it’s 2010 – we can’t get padded seats for the audience?) and hearing how hockey somehow could never work in Arizona. Not exactly my idea of a good time, but if you’re going to hit a low point in a season, you may as well hit it right at the beginning.
From there, everything played out like a movie script, one so unbelievable you’d have a hard time even selling it in Hollywood. Imagine pitching this to a producer:A group of players and a coach that the other 29 teams inexplicably don’t seem to want gets thrown together last minute after a tumultuous offseason that none of them causes, yet all of them has to deal with. And naturally, they come together quickly and win by exemplifying teamwork in its purest form, yet go relatively unheralded all year – even as they rewrite the franchise record books in the face of adversity and cruise to the fourth best record in the ENTIRE NHL. Then they lose their captain and unquestioned leader (someone who fought through all the hard times when it felt like no one was watching and there might never be a light at the end of the tunnel) right in the middle of the very playoffs that he'd waited so long to be a part of because he tries not to injure the other team’s goalie. And just for fun, why not have that very same goalie then call the good guys ‘lucky’, just to test the limits of irony?
Of course, all of this would play out in front of a rapidly growing fan base - one we were told all summer didn’t even exist, mainly by people who had never set foot in this state. I mean, if you’re going to write a movie, you may as well make it interesting right?
It all sounds almost too clichéd to be true. Yet it is - every single word of it. A reward for the Coyotes fans who were talked down to by “real” hockey fans from everywhere else on the continent for the past 12 months. And the best part is, it wasn’t a flash in the pan. The future is bright.
If I could change just one thing though, I’d have a healthy Shane Doan
for the full series against Detroit. I won’t sit here and say the Coyotes definitively advance with him, but anyone who thinks he doesn’t at least make a difference in such a close series has clearly never seen him play. Still, that’s not even the point. It just felt wrong watching Doan sit there on the sidelines, unable to lace up the skates and defend something he worked so hard to build. It was like watching a guy make a car from scratch, then have someone steal it from him while he was putting the final coat of paint on it. Not right.
But Doan will be back next year and I’d imagine this experience will make him hungrier than ever. True, the Coyotes have free agents, but I think we can all agree that Don Maloney knows what he’s doing. And, in addition to Doan, guys like Ilya Bryzgalov and Keith Yandle
already are locked up. Plus this team has chemistry - something many teams lack - and we know they can play with the big boys. Their record against the final eight teams in the playoffs this season was 15-11-3. Mixed in there are 11 games against Detroit. Think that sort of experience might help them in the future?
This season was full of enduring images that will stay with me forever. One in particular came after the final horn: the vast majority of a sellout crowd staying through arguably the team’s worst performance of the year, just to salute their heroes. I watched firsthand as Jobing.com Arena went from relatively empty to the hottest ticket in town - all in the span of just a few months. The series with Detroit was the end of the season, but the start of something real. We witnessed a team change their culture and become a winner. That simply doesn’t happen very often. And, in the final moments of Game 7, we watched the budding relationship between a hungry fan base and their players; between a city and its hockey team. As it turns out, everything we believed in was true: win some games and give the fans something to rally behind and they will show up in loud, supportive fashion. The players fed off it. Home ice advantage was huge for this team this year - the way it was meant to be.
So yeah, there were ups and downs but, in the end, it was refreshing to get a personal reminder
of why I love sports. In a year when all the national headlines seemed obsessed with Ben Roethlisberger or Tiger Woods, it was great to be around arguably the best sports story in America. How often do you get to witness something like that in your own backyard? I really should've written a book. Instead I wrote a long blog.