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'Yotes Notes: Michalek Experiences Emotional Finale

Defenseman Zbynek Michalek likely played his final NHL game on Saturday

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

GLENDALE - Defenseman Zbynek Michalek likely played his final NHL game on Saturday night at Gila River Arena against the team he broke into the League with in 2003-04.

Michalek, 34, skated 19:48, took two shots on goal and delivered two hits in a 3-1 loss to Minnesota in the season finale for the Coyotes, for whom he played 612 games.

"Obviously, the game didn't go the way we wanted it to," Michalek said. "It was pretty emotional and I had a hard time getting it together once the game got going."

Michalek played most of this season for the Tucson Roadrunners, Arizona's affiliate in the American Hockey League. The Coyotes, who are rebuilding with young players, recalled him from the AHL on March 19 as a thank you for his years of service. He played three NHL games this season, and Saturday's game was his first on home ice.

"I just wanted to go out there and enjoy it," Michalek said. "I think I did. It was fun playing in this building again, in front of these fans and with these guys again, wearing this uniform. These are special moments that I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Michalek paused twice during his post-game media scrum to compose himself as emotion started to get the better of him.

"I had a tough time sleeping (on Friday night)," Michalek said. " ... the whole career just flashes in front of my eyes, how lucky I was to play for so long. Playing in this great city, great organization, and the people along the way, the friendships and everything, it means a lot so I couldn't be more thankful."

Video: Michalek discusses what was likely his final NHL game

Head Coach Dave Tippett praised Michalek for his service and professionalism.

"He's done so much good for this organization, and not just the amount of games he's played, but the way he carries himself, the way he works," Tippett said. "He's just a true professional ... 'Z' played hard every single shift. He was out there (tonight), and it's fitting he finishes here. He was a very good player for a long time here, and I was glad to see him out there tonight."

Video: Dave Tippett discusses Coyotes' 3-1 loss to Wild

• Goalie Mike Smith made 42 saves in the defeat and set a new franchise record for games played by a goalie with 312, passing Bob Essensa.

Smith did not like the way the team played in the final game of the season.

"I think a lot of guys were mentally checked out and have been for quite some time now," Smith said. "You play against a good team like that, you're probably going to lose. That's what happened."

Christian Dvorak won six face-offs and set a new franchise record for face-off wins by a rookie. Dvorak finished his freshman season with 471 face-off victories.

Dvorak set the record by winning a draw against Wild center Martin Hanzal early in the third period. Ironically, the record Dvorak topped by just one was set by Hanzal when he won 470 face-offs as a rookie with the Coyotes in 2007-08.

• The Coyotes played a tribute video for Hanzal during a break in the action in the first period. Many fans stood and applauded as it played. Hanzal smiled and clapped his hands to thank the fans, and presumably the team, for the gesture. 

• Arizona finished the season with a 30-42-10 record. Rookies notched 110 points during the campaign, which is the second-highest total for rookie production among the 30 NHL teams.

• Craig Cunningham dropped the ceremonial first puck five months after collapsing on the ice and nearly dying before a Tucson Roadrunners (AHL) game earlier this season. 

"It's been a long journey," said Cunningham, the Roadrunners captain. "I hoped I would be walking into this building with my (hockey) bag, but I realize that I'm lucky to be here. Between Tucson and Phoenix fans, and the whole hockey world, the support I've gotten has just been incredible ... It's been an indescribable couple of months. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, it's been tough."

Cunningham's resilience has inspired his teammates. 

"I had chills," Smith said of the puck drop. "I was trying to hold back the emotions that it brought. I think the whole building felt it. It was pretty incredible to see him walk on the ice after the year he's gone through."

Video: Craig Cunningham discusses his recovery

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