SALT LAKE CITY -- The players had been introduced to Utah. They’d been greeted by hundreds of youth hockey players at the airport; toured Delta Center and Utah Jazz headquarters; and come back to the arena to find about 12,400 people packed inside for a welcome event.

Now they introduced themselves as Utah’s new NHL team. On stage before a raucous crowd Wednesday, they were supposed to state their names, positions and hometowns one by one. But they were so emotional, so inspired, they couldn’t help but fire up the fans further.

Clayton Keller grabbed the mic and yelled, “Utah! How we doin’?” Lawson Crouse took it and yelled, “Let’s make some more noise!” Nick Bjugstad yelled, “Let’s go!” Liam O'Brien told the fans they could call him “Spicy Tuna,” and Jack McBain led a “Spicy Tuna” chant.

“This is honestly one of the coolest experiences we’ve all had as hockey players,” Alex Kerfoot told the crowd.

The best moments from Utah's welcome to the NHL

A week ago, the Arizona Coyotes finished their season. The next day, the NHL Board of Governors voted to establish a new team in Utah, which would acquire the Coyotes hockey assets. The players had mixed emotions, unsure of their future.

Utah wanted to give them a look at their new home and arranged a series of events.

Suddenly, they could be excited about where they were headed. Utah has 29,000 season-ticket deposits and counting.

“I know what it’s like for them and what they’re feeling when they see you and they see you cheer like that,” general manager Bill Armstrong told the crowd. “You have no idea what that means to us, to be loved.”

NHL.com followed along as the executives, coaches, players, staff and their families visited Utah on Wednesday:

10:27 a.m. MT

The Delta plane stopped on the tarmac, and hundreds of youth hockey players, parents and coaches waited in the hangar holding homemade signs. “WELCOME TO UTAH!” “UTAH [HEARTS] HOCKEY!” “WELCOME HOME!” One sign had a map of Utah, a star for Salt Lake City and directions: “You are here.”

With music rocking in the background, the kids chanted: “Let’s go, Utah! Let’s go!” The players disembarked in black hoodies with the NHL shield and “UTAH EST. 2024.” As they walked down the steps, they took in the scene and broke into smiles.

“I had tears coming down my face,” Armstrong said.

UTAH players arriving into hangar

The scene sent a message.

“I think just to really let them know that we’re really excited about this, that we wanted an NHL team for a long time, that they’re going to have a lot of support and have a lot of fans here,” said Bobbi Jaramillo, who brought her 10-year-old daughter, Addison, a left wing for the Davis County Wind. “I think this is a great place for hockey to grow.”

The players took their time and signed autographs. Sometimes it was so wholesome it hurt. Josh Brown introduced himself to kids by saying simply, “I’m Josh. Josh Brown.” Liam Cevallos, a 10-year-old who plays at the Utah Olympic Oval, held a sign that said, “ONE DAY I WILL BE LIKE YOU.”

“We’re super excited to be here,” Keller said. “Stepping off the plane was unbelievable.”

UTAH Clayton Keller signing autos

1:23 p.m. MT

The players gathered in a hallway at Delta Center, standing in front of a huge sign that said, “NHL IN UTAH.” Ryan and Ashley Smith own Utah’s NHL and NBA teams, which will share the arena. Jazz president Jim Olson gave a guided tour.

“This is your home,” Olson told the players.

They walked down the hallway, turned the corner and walked onto the ice. The arena will host 16,200 for hockey next season, with 12,000 unobstructed seats, but it will be renovated over two or three years to host more than 17,000 for hockey.

“My first impression when I walk in the building is being sad to think I have to wait four, five months to get back,” coach Andre Tourigny said. “I cannot wait to get on the ice. I think it’s exciting to have an opportunity to build something with our fans.”

UTAH players walking stadium 2

As Olson spoke, the players looked up at the steeply pitched seats.

“We want to rev it up in here,” Armstrong said. “We want to become the loudest building in the NHL in here. The building gives us a chance. How it’s built, how steep it is, you couldn’t design a better building for us.”

Olson took the players into the seats so they could see the fans’ view for themselves. He took them in a lounge area and the Jazz locker room, so they could see the level of amenities they will have when their spaces are constructed in the offseason.

In the Jazz locker room, with the players standing in a semicircle, he shared two of Smith Entertainment Group’s company values: “one team” and “all in.” He emphasized that they are all in this together, and the organization is all in on hockey.

“We loved that,” Armstrong said. “That was a great moment for us. It was all about getting it done.”

UTAH players in locker room

3:16 p.m. MT

The players walked onto the practice court at Zions Bank Basketball Campus not far from downtown. With a basketball under his arm, Ryan Smith greeted them like buddies with handshakes and hugs, then introduced them to Jazz coach Will Hardy.

“There’s no better person than Ryan to address what’s next,” Hardy told the players. “You guys are coming to a market that really, really cares about their teams.”

Utah needs to build a permanent hockey training facility, but Ryan Smith told the players, “This will give you an idea of what this can, or will, look like.”

UTAH players in weight room

They walked through the kitchen, where NHL Network was on television showing social media posts of their reception at the airport earlier. They saw the hydrotherapy area, the medical area, the weight room.

“It’s incredible what they’ve done, and we’re looking forward to the day that that’s all finished for us,” Armstrong said.

Finally, the players had a free moment. They picked up some basketballs and began shooting around, smiling, laughing.

“Everything has been amazing, first class, with a lot of enthusiasm,” Tourigny said. “It made us feel at home already. We already want to fight for Utah. I’m blown away right now.”

Tourigny said that even though the best part was still yet to come.

UTAH players shooting basketballs

5:33 p.m. MT

The players walked into the Delta Center dressed in suits, feeling like superstars. If you looked closely, you could see them failing to hide smiles as they walked onto the ice and up the middle surrounded by people holding up their phones to record the moment. 

The lights were low, the spotlights shining. The music was pumping, the crowd buzzing. Most of the fans had been there at least an hour already, cheering and chanting. First, it was a deafening “Utah!” Then it was, “Let’s go, Utah!” Hundreds of fans, if not thousands, were still outside, unable to get in before the organizers had to cut it off.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox made the fans promise to come back for the parade when the team wins the Stanley Cup. Ashley Smith told the crowd, “We’re super passionate about Utah, and this is why.” Ryan Smith said, “I’ll tell you one thing: Utah shows up. … This is just the beginning.”

Armstrong said, “We’re so looking forward to this being the loudest building in the NHL.” The fans responded by chanting rapidly, “Utah! Utah! Utah!” Touringy said, “We cannot wait to feed off your energy next year.”

The players introduced themselves. Finally, Bjugstad, Crouse and Keller spoke.

“It’s been very special,” Crouse told the crowd. “Ever since that plane touched down, we felt nothing but love and support from you guys. We’re very grateful for you guys. We can’t wait to get on the ice.”

UTAH young fan holding welcome sign