A column by Somos Sports co-founder Sunny Cadwallader
The first time I watched a professional hockey game was in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona.
Back then, the Phoenix Roadrunners played at Veterans Memorial Coliseum – a few stones’ throws from my house. In other words, walking distance.
I can’t say I remember any particular games or details about the Roadrunners. I was a little kid, after all. But, I do remember going to their games.
Thursday night, I watched my first NHL game in – you guessed it – Phoenix, Arizona. Glendale, actually. The hotbed of hockey that is the desert, hosted another first for me at Gila River Arena.
The arena is next to the Westgate Entertainment District, along with State Farm Stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play. It is a very energetic atmosphere outside the arena so I was hoping for something similar inside…on the ice.
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Believe it or not, I have watched hockey, live, since then. Spokane, Washington is home to the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs. No NHL team within a reasonable driving distance during the winter.
Sorry, I’m not driving to Calgary or Edmonton in the winter. Lovely cities, but no.
Seattle isn’t exactly ideal to drive to either in the winter, what with the Cascade Mountains and Snoqualmie Pass and all. I’d have to wait until 2020 to see NHL there anyway.
Desert hockey will have to do.
In August, the Arizona Coyotes had yet another ownership change. This time, however, it came with a decidedly Hispanic twist.
Alex Meruelo bought the Coyotes in August. Ownership has sometimes been a sore spot for Coyotes fans here in the valley. But, Meruelo is looking to grow the game and make a connection with the ‘Yotes fanbase by marketing to the large Hispanic population in the Phoenix area.
“Tener la oportunidad de comprar el primer equipo de hockey siendo hispano. Es algo muy grande para mi y un gran orgullo,” Meruelo said at a press conference in September. Translated, “To have the opportunity to buy the first hockey team as a Hispanic. It’s something really big for me and a source of great pride.”
We’ve seen token gestures throughout the sports world during Hispanic Heritage Month. Adding a “Los” to a team name on a jersey is usually the most exposure fans receive to the month. But, with a Hispanic at the head of the Coyotes organization, the “Los” isn’t just a token gesture for this team.
Shortly after the start of Hispanic Heritage Month in September, the team announced three new social channels, specifically geared toward the Hispanic market. Los Yotes was launched on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
On October 17, they will hold a Noche de Los Coyotes Night to continue that outreach to the Latino fan base here in the Valley of the Sun.
“We have not done a very good job over the past several years of reaching out to the Hispanic community. And we have the right person now to really connect with that community,” said Ahron Cohen, President and CEO of the Coyotes, at the press conference to welcome Meruelo.
When I left Spokane on Thursday morning, snow was on the ground, the plane required de-icing and it was 20-something degrees.
Little did I know that there would be a little piece of Spokane on the Gila River Arena ice. And I’m not talking about the temperature.
Michael Grabner played for the Chiefs from 2004-07. I remember him as a fast skater and one of their top scorers during his time there. He left prior to their 2007-08 Memorial Cup Championship season.
Still, he made enough of an impact on me that I remembered him 10+years later. I found myself looking for his No. 40 tonight on the ice.
Grabner is nearing his 600th NHL game. Just like in his Spokane days, he is still fast.
Although he didn’t score, it was reminiscent of the speed I noticed oh so many years ago.
Although Vegas Golden Knights fans traveled well – and made their presence known early – it was Coyotes fans who went home happy. The Coyotes won 4-1.
My first official NHL game – as a media member – is in the books. I was initiated by two desert cities. Go figure.
An announced crowd of 13,000+ joined me. Not a sellout by any means, but decent enough for a weeknight.
With Meruelo leading the way, here’s hoping the Coyotes connect with not only Hispanic fans, but sports fans across the Valley.
Who knows? Maybe a young Latina will grow up to cover sports because of her own desert hockey experience. Watching the team that replaced the Phoenix Roadrunners.
Just like me.