– The 2002 White Out T-Shirt was a little snug on Coyotes fans Spencer Newton, but he had a good excuse.
"Well, when I got it, I was only 8 years old," said Newton, his face painted white and clutching a homemade plastic-and-tinfoil Stanley Cup. "It's been a while since I've worn it. I have a lot of other Coyotes shirts at home … but this was the one for tonight."
It was a circus-type atmosphere outside Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday -- and not just because half the crowd was sporting makeup that would have made Bozo the Clown jealous. For the first time since falling meekly to the Colorado Avalanche
in five games eight years ago, playoff hockey was back in Arizona, and no one wanted to miss a single minute.
"There were times when I thought this would never happen," said Thomas Clark of Maryvale, Ariz., sporting a vintage white Rick Tocchet
Coyotes jersey over his newer Shane Doan
red model. "The Doan jersey is my good luck charm, but if I wear red I would be mistaken for the enemy."
No one seemed to mind that while the Coyotes have home ice advantage, the Desert Dogs are decided underdogs to the Red Wings. It's "Hockeytown" against the town that nearly lost hockey.
Detroit has 17 players on its roster who have their names on the Stanley Cup, and the Wings have 34 rings among them. The only two Coyotes who own a ring are ex-Red Wing Mathieu Schneider
, who won his 17 years ago in Montreal, and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
, who was the understudy to Jean-Sebastien Giguere
with Anaheim three years ago.
While the White Out has been a visual spectacle, Phoenix has lost all five first-round playoff series and the Winnipeg franchise hasn't been past the first round since 1987. But the Coyotes feel like they have turned a page this season, setting franchise records for wins, home wins and points and earning home ice for only the second time in their 14-year history in Arizona.
"(Dave) Tippett and his crew have done an unbelievable job to get themselves where they are," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "They've had pixie dust on them all winter, and everything has gone well for them. They've been a great story. The fans are excited, there is going to be electricity in the building – but you have to play the game on the ice."
Not only do the Red Wings remember the White Out from their six-game wins over the Jets in 1996 and Coyotes in 1998, but both Detroit assistants were on the Phoenix bench for the first-ever Coyotes playoff series in 1997 against Anaheim. Paul MacLean
was on the bench as an assistant to Don Hay while Brad McCrimmon
was a Coyotes defenseman.
"We had a lot of excitement that whole season, but the White Out really lifts things to another level. It's an experience you don't forget," McCrimmon said. "Paul played in the first one in Winnipeg and then he coached it in Phoenix. There are a lot of ‘outs' – black-outs, red-outs ... but the White Out has a real different feel to it."
Red Wings fans didn't seem interested in the least. Michigan native Kevin Staton and Glen Vallet bought their playoff tickets before they knew Phoenix's opponent, but were elated when it turned out to be Detroit.
"Phoenix is my second team, but I'm a Red Wings guy all the way," said Staton, who appeared to have a lot of friends who agreed among the white-clad Coyote boosters. "I'm not wearing white. They don't make white jerseys at the big-and-tall shop. It's red all the way."