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VanMurph's View: A Phoenix Perspective

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Murphy and Vanessa Burch
In just another attempt to bring the fans closer to the team and vice versa, would like to introduce our newest fan blogger, Murphy Burch. Joining YourBlog's Cliff Peeke, Murphy will be writing about his views on the Panthers for this season.

Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.

VanMurph's View Blog Archive

Driving into Phoenix from Los Angeles, I tried to forget about the loss to the Kings the previous evening, and to look ahead to the game against the Coyotes. The beauty of the desert, and the clear blue sky was just what the doctor ordered for a disconsolate Panthers fan. At least until the puck dropped…

Much the same as in Los Angeles yesterday, there was no hint of anything having to do with the National Hockey League at any place I stopped along the way in Arizona, even a couple of miles from the Arena. Diamondbacks? Sure. Cardinals? Absolutely. ASU? Naturally. University of Arizona? You bet’cha. Coyotes? Ummm, who? Even the Cubs, who train here in the spring, appear to have a bigger following than the ‘Yotes. Cubs merchandise was nearly everywhere, yet the only place I happened fo find Coyotes products was in the arena. Now that’s not to say you can’t find Coyotes merchandise if you go looking for it; but that wasn’t my intent. I was trying to see if the branding of the NHL was making it into the mainstream here in Phoenix like the NFL, NBA, and MLB. You can’t swing a dead cat without whacking someone in an NFL sweatshirt, yet you rarely see anyone wearing NHL clothing. I think getting the NHL merchandise into the public’s eye will go a long way toward widening it’s fan base, but that’s for another blog entry…

If you come to Phoenix for a game, renting a car while you’re here is probably the way to go. I drove in from the West, but the Arena is a significant distance from the airport (which is where most of you would arrive if you visited here). With just a quick look at the cab fares here, I’d guess the total would be somewhere around $65 each way from the airport to the arena. My rental car, including gas, ended up running me about $100 for 3 days (Thank You!) From what I could gather, public transportation to the arena is pretty much non-existent, so you either drive, take a shuttle, or catch a cab.

The Arena’s location is similar to the BankAtlantic Center’s. It’s west of the city, and it’s located just to the east of a major highway. To say it’s “out in the boonies” would be a stretch, but not much of one. However, judging from the ongoing construction west of the arena, I’d say in 10 years it will be located in the center of a well-populated area (the planners of the site deserve a lot of credit for their foresight). Just outside the north entrance of the Arena is a beautiful restaurant and retail complex, and just to the north of that is a large theater multiplex. The commons is accentuated with fountains, palm trees, and southwest architecture and colors. Like in LA, Fox Sports has a sports bar and grill about 100 feet from the main entrance to the arena. Since it was a Saturday and there were several terrific college football games on TV, I spent the better part of the afternoon in there staring at the 15’ high-definition screen. Some of that time was spent hanging out with a couple of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale hockey celebrities, and enjoying appetizers with iced tea. The calamari was delicious, and the wings had a little kick to them!

There has been talk in Sunrise of building restaurant/retail facilities near the BankAtlantic Center. Well, before anyone forms a negative opinion of the idea, I’d like to humbly suggest they visit Phoenix and see how beautifully it can be done. If the planners at Sunrise Sports & Entertainment are going to model theirs after the one here, it’ll be a screaming success. The place was packed with people, and they all appeared to be enjoying themselves. I imagine it helps with the traffic problems too, because it means instead of everyone arriving at the same time for a hockey game, thousands could come early and stay late at the restaurants, thus staggering the flow of cars in and out of the parking lots. Arena located right across the street from the home of the Phoenix Cardinals (the University of Phoenix Stadium). The Cardinals’ place looks like a giant space ship from a 1950’s movie, although someone told me it is supposed to resemble a coiled-up Rattlesnake. If you stood there long enough, I suppose you could see the resemblance… I must not have stood there long enough, because even as I was getting on the highway to head back toward Anaheim, it still looked like a giant spaceship to me.

The game started at 7:00, and the doors opened at 6:00, which is what time I entered the arena.  There is just one point of entry, and it’s on the north side of the building.  Just like in the Staples Center, visitors to the Arena are asked to step through a metal detector.  They’re not as sensitive as the ones you may be used to at the airport, but they are still somewhat intrusive, and a stark reminder of the times in which we live.

One of the first things I saw when I entered the arena was a support pole wrapped with a large picture of Olli Jokenin. A short time later, while walking around the main concourse, I saw another photo of Olli up on the wall. It seems like Olli has been accepted by the fans of the Coyotes, and he’s making an impact on their community with his charitable donations like he did here in South Florida. He is still donating $500 for every assist, and $1000 for every goal he scores. Unfortunately for us, his wallet was $1500 lighter after the Panthers left town. I spoke with several season-ticket holders in the arena, and every single one of them said they would rather still have Ballard and Boynton. I’m sure they will warm up to Olli, but their feeling through this point in the season is that they gave up too much for what they got in return. Said another way, they think we got the better end of the deal.

Some notes from the Arena:

-    The goal zone nets are black like the ones we have in the BankAtlantic Center, but these are made of a material that appears to be finer, and thus slightly easier to see through. They are also much taller than the nets in our place. If you compare the photo from my last entry of the nets in Los Angeles to the photo below of the ones in Phoenix, you’ll see the striking difference between the two. The nets in Phoenix are practically invisible, whereas the ones in LA are almost intrusive.

-    The glass is very nice. Instead of having the traditional dividers that go from the top to the bottom, the panes of glass in PHX are held together with square pieces of plexiglass located only at the top between each pane. This makes for much better lateral vision of the ice when you’re sitting down low.  If you’re not having to look through a bunch of dividers, you spend more time watching the action on the ice rather than watching it up on the Jumbotron.

-    The parking fee is included in the cost of the ticket, just like at the BankAtlantic Center. There is ample parking for the venue, and entering and exiting the lots is easy and fast. Within 10 minutes of the final horn, I was on the road.

-    The slope of the lower bowl is very steep, giving the arena a smaller feel, but insuring that nearly every seat in the place has a terrific view of the ice. The inside of the arena is really beautiful. The seats are a brownish red color, and they are quite comfortable.  The attendance wasn’t the best, but considering the fact that both teams were struggling, that’s not too surprising. The next time somebody gives you a ration of grief about the attendance in the BAC, just come to this blog and show them the second photo down:

-    There is a giant screen TV outside the arena that can be used to show the action inside. It’s also good for subliminal advertising of upcoming events… For some strange reason, I feel the urgent need to buy Celine Dion tickets… Hmmmm.

-    Once inside the building, you’ll notice a concourse with a unique design. Instead of having a continuously flowing oval like we have, there are many 50 to 80 degree turns that you have to navigate in the end zones.  The straight-aways, however, are fairly long and pretty easily traversed. The concourses are narrower than the ones in the BAC, but not as narrow as the ones in LA. The ceilings are lower, and there are fewer windows, so it feels cramped, but it’s actually fairly roomy.

-    The music played during the pre-game skate and throughout the evening was very similar to that which is played at the BAC, and it’s played at a similar decibel level.

-    During their player introductions, a strobe light is used very effectively in a darkened arena.  It’s quite dramatic, and it’s pretty cool, unless you’re susceptible to strokes...

-    The program they hand out is really nice. It’s called the Redline, and it is a very nicely put-together publication. The cover for the Panthers game featured none other than Olli Jokinen. The program also included terrific articles, player features, coupons, and nicely done lineup cards.

-    They have a terrific scoreboard with a lighted ring around the bottom, and that ring can be used to match the one ring scoreboard around the second level of the arena. It’s quite eye catching when you see it for the first time. On occasion, they would use the smaller of the screens on the top of the scoreboard to show players’ Time On Ice, and the out of town scores. There were also dedicated Out-Of-Town scoreboards located around the arena.

-    I only heard one cheer that night, but it was almost continuous throughout the evening. It was the familiar “Let’s Go Coyotes”, but with a twist I wasn’t really expecting. Instead of saying Coyotes in three syllables like I’m sure you just did, they say it in two syllables like in the old western movies; “Let’s Go KY-YOTES”. Even though the Coyotes are a team with a losing record, you’d never know it from the vociferousness of their fans. They were very loud and stood behind their team, which was probably made a little easier by the 4-1 score. Once the Coyotes took the lead, the crowd really came to life, and after they took a two-goal lead, the crowd participation and enthusiasm never really relented. One other piece of uniqueness about the Coyotes fans; they howl. From the opening face-off, to the closing seconds of the game, I could hear someone in the arena howling like a coyote. Again, just another piece of coolness from the fans of the Coyotes.

-    Their Power Play is sponsored by Dodge, but their Penalty Kill and icing remains unsponsored.

-    Out on the straight-aways of the concourse, there are dozens of jerseys from many different Arizona hockey teams, present and past. I asked someone about them and was told that Arizona has a proud heritage of hockey, and those jerseys are a tribute to that heritage.

-    They have an organist, but honestly, all of the organ music he played is the same organ music we hear in the BAC using MP3s. While it’s a nice touch to have an organist, if they hadn’t showed his face up on the screen during the pre-game, I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t pre-recorded music.

-    There is a Hooters on the concourse, but no Hooters girls… So basically, you get mediocre wings, and nothing to look at while you try to choke them down.

-    The food at all of the concession stands is priced similarly to food in the BAC. There was nothing that really stood out vis-à-vis quality or difference. My suggestion? Eat before you get there. You’ll save a little money, and your Cardiologist will be proud of you.

-    Just like in LA, the Coyotes have girls with 4’ shovels who come out and clean the ice.  Their pattern is the same (starting at the face-off circles, and working toward the goal lines), and they are quick to get the job done. Their outfits are sexy yet respectful. They wear a sleeveless top and a tennis skirt. These girls also helped with some of the intermission entertainment (along with a group of cheerleaders whom I didn’t really notice until the second intermission).

-    Their mascot’s name is Howler. He’s a coyote and he reminded me a lot of Stanley. He rides a 4-wheeler, and he shoots t-shirts into the crowd. He also led cheers and skated as the ref during the intermission entertainment. (More on that in a second)

-    There is no in-arena host in the Arena, just a stadium announcer with a standard radio voice. He’s good at his job, and his voice fills the arena.

-    Delta Dental sponsors their kiss cam, and if I didn’t know I was sitting in an arena 2000 miles away, I would’ve bet I was in the BAC. The song they used is identical to ours, and they showed a very good mix of people, including a couple of really old folks who drew a huge cheer from the crowd when they finally smooched. The last couple they showed drew a huge laugh, but they never acknowledged the cameras… It was Zed and McLean.

-    The intermission entertainment is very similar to what we see in the BAC. The first intermission featured a hockey game between two teams of little kids; it was hilarious to watch them skate their little hearts out and fall all over the ice. The second intermission featured a tricycle race between three adults on modified tricycles. It was just as funny as the first intermission, but for different reasons. You ever see an adult riding a tricycle? Yeah, me either until now. They had to ride one and a half times around the ice, and it was gut-busting to watch them pedal with all their might as the front tire just kept spinning on the slippery surface…

-    The blimp in the Arena is a taco… You heard me right, I said it’s a taco:

-    Smoke comes from the catwalk after goals, and their goal horn sounds a lot like ours. Unfortunately, I got to see that smoke and hear that stinkin’ horn four times during the evening…

-    They have vendors in the aisles. As I said in my LA blog, that is a big pet peeve of mine. But this time I decided to take a photo and show you WHY it’s such a big pet peeve… Can you imagine having your view of the game (for which you paid a premium price) blocked by this dozens of times each night?

-    One last note: During the player introductions, the loudest and most enthusiastic reaction from the crowd came when their coach was introduced. It was some guy named, let me see if I got this right, Wayne Gretzky? 

Should you find yourself in Phoenix for a game, I think you’ll really enjoy yourself. The cost is reasonable, and it’s a way to cool off after being exposed to the Phoenix heat. The fans at the arena were very gracious hosts, and they absolutely love their hockey team. I didn’t have a single bad experience wearing my Panthers jersey, or for openly and loudly pulling against Alabama and Penn State in the sports bar…

The following paragraph is quoted from my last blog entry…  Since it’s wholly appropriate here, I’ll just cut and paste it:

“The game itself? Well, you saw it, or heard it, or heard about it…  Either way, it was UGLY.  I wasn’t happy, and I just couldn’t believe I was watching the same team that had skated so strongly in Montreal and Ottawa, and at home against the Sharks. I hope the urgency is felt in the locker room the way it is in the stands. Our guys MUST know how important it is to get this thing turned around, and quickly. I won’t bother with the minutia, but suffice it to say that we all know the fans aren’t happy with efforts like the ones we’ve seen in Atlanta and L.A. {and now Phoenix}. Oh, and in my last blog I mentioned that Keith Ballard deserved at least an “A” on his chest… Well you can cancel that. He deserves nothing less than a “C”. I am so impressed with his hustle and his heart.”

I want to take a minute to say hello to some Panthers fans who live in Phoenix. Matt and Kether are a married couple who moved to Phoenix from South Florida a few years ago, and are still hard-core fans of the Panthers. Matt participates on the Panthers’ message boards, and that is how we planned the hook-up in Phoenix. They joined me in the Fox Sports Bar and Grill shortly before the doors opened at the arena, and we chatted via text messages throughout the evening. Matt and Kether, it was a pleasure to meet the two of you, and I look forward to seeing you guys again when you come down to the game against the Rangers on November 28th in Sunrise.

A quick hello also to the Murphy’s! They’re a family of Florida transplants who now reside in Phoenix. Their young son, Patrick (who played for the Florida Jr. Panthers) recognized my name from the back of my jersey, and his parents called me over for a brief chat. It was great to meet you guys! (While little Murph has moved on to play for the Junior Coyotes, and has shifted his loyalties to a new team, his parents remain fans of the Panthers)

After the game, feeling pretty despondent from a 4-1 shellacking, I forewent staying the night in Phoenix. I just got into the rental car and set out for Anaheim. The drive back to California took place at night, so there wasn’t too much in the way of scenery to report on. I will say, though, that there was one particularly desolate stretch of Interstate 10 where a sign caught my eye, and kept me laughing for a while… It said, “STATE PRISON NEXT EXIT. DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS”.

The next blog entry will recap the experience of the Panthers against the Ducks in the Honda Center. That game was so exciting! Booth and Anderson put on a terrific show, and for the first time on the entire road trip, I left the arena with a smile on my face (Most of the next entry was written on the flight home, so some of it may speak in the present tense, but the rest of it will be completed tonight or tomorrow, using the notes I took during the game).

I appreciate you stopping by the blog.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Take Care,

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: 

Thank you to everyone who emailed me after the last blog entry.  Since I’ve been traveling quite a bit over the past week, it’s been a little tougher to get to my email. I will, however, answer each of them in the coming days.

VanMurph's View Blog Archive

Here are some additional photos from Phoenix:

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