Fan Fest optimism surrounds Coyotes as NHL season nears

By Nick Frias/For Somos Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes hosted their 2018 Fan Fest Saturday, a continuation of doing everything in their power to improve their attendance numbers and keep the team in the state.

The event, which took place at Gila River Arena, gave fans a chance to meet players, buy tickets and merchandise and play carnival games in the concourse.

The Coyotes also began the process of making the ice rink, but a black curtain blocked the seats and rink from the eyes of passersby.

That black curtain will be long gone in October, as the Coyotes will take the ice for their 22nd season with a multitude of new additions ready to try to continue the momentum that some of last season’s players built. A Stanley Cup might be a reach, but indications are the Coyotes, downtrodden for the past few years, are back on their way up.

Among those additions is forward Alex Galchenyuk. Arizona traded Max Domi to Montreal for the budding star who wanted to get away from a Canadiens organization that did not want to play him at his natural position, center.

The Milwaukee-born Galchenyuk, the son of a Belarusian winger of the same name, spent his childhood moving around the Midwest when his father switched teams. After spending time in development leagues in Canada, the Canadiens drafted Galchenyuk in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

With Galchenyuk in a new jersey and unfamiliar territory, Arizona Coyotes play-by-play announcer Matt McConnell  asked where he considered home.

“Wherever work is,” the 24-year-old forward replied without missing a beat.

Galchenyuk’s attitude can be a big help in the locker room, but his biggest impact for Arizona may be on special teams.

“The ‘Yotes power play is not that good,” Coyotes fan and Arizona State student Jenna Ortiz said, “Most of [Galchenyuk’s] goals come on the power play and he’s going to be able to contribute that.”

For help on the other side of special teams, the Coyotes picked up speedy defenseman Michael Grabner.

When asked by a fan how he got so fast, Grabner said, “Growing up, I was always the smallest guy on the team, so my speed was all I had, and I worked hard on that.”

The veteran speedster will be a huge help for a penalty kill that struggled mightily last season.

Despite all of the on-ice hype the Coyotes have built up over the course of the offseason, nothing tops the craze over the team’s “new” alternate jerseys.

Ortiz’s hype for the Coyotes ‘third jerseys more than surpassed her excitement over Galchenyuk.

“I’m so glad the Kachina jerseys are back,” Ortiz said of the Coyote’s third jerseys. “They honor the roots of Arizona, and we get to show that on an international stage, which is so cool.”

Returning star Derek Stepan also can’t wait to wear those jerseys 14 times this season.

When I heard we were getting a third jersey, I was hoping it would be those,” Stepan said. “I’m so excited, man.”

The excitement for the alternate jerseys, bigger arena Jumbotron, expanded food options and improved team all coming to Glendale this season will continue to build all the way up until the home opener against Anaheim on October 6th, where Arizona natives will come together to howl for the professional ice hockey team that will be theirs for at least another season.