Resignation reigns as Coyotes prepare for potential Arizona final, takes on Utah: 'One last home game'

Resignation reigns as Coyotes prepare for potential Arizona final, takes on Utah: 'One last home game'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The team did its best to make everything seem like business as usual Tuesday, limiting questions to “hockey-related” inquiries, but on the eve of what may be the last game in Arizona Coyotes history, there were plenty of ways to keep up appearances.

Amid the familiar sound of pucks hitting the glass and sticks hitting the ice inside the Coyotes' practice facility, the Ice Den, there have been conversations among the team's staff about the possibility of planning a trip early next week to visit what now seems inevitable to be their new home in Salt Lake City. City – About who may stay or go.

As the Coyotes prepared for Wednesday's season finale against the Edmonton Oilers and owner Alex Meruelo continued to move forward with final negotiations on a deal that would see him divest the organization's hockey assets, the sense of resignation about what comes next was palpable.

“The spirit of the message for us is to live it all,” Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny said of his group’s approach as it plays what will likely be one last game in the comfortable confines of Mollet Arena. “We want to play our last game with dignity and respect. Give the best the fans can expect. We want to make sure people remember us as a group that fought with everything in our bodies.

They have little choice given the unusual circumstances in which they find themselves.

The Coyotes were preparing for a game in Vancouver last Wednesday when news of their impending move to Salt Lake City for next season began to emerge via media reports. Veteran forward Lawson Cross, who played all 503 of his NHL games with Arizona, said he and his teammates learned of their fate through social media.

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“To block out all the noise, I'm not going to lie, it's very difficult to do,” Kraus said. “But we did a great job with that. So, another one.”

There was a clear sense that players and coaches were still largely in the dark about the plans being finalized above them in the owner's suite, although everyone made available at a carefully orchestrated media session on Tuesday was careful not to say anything that could be interpreted. As a criticism of the way this exit was handled.

“I can't really comment on that,” Cross said. “I don't know the logistics or anything for that matter.”

The Coyotes have spent the past two seasons playing out of the 4,600-seat Mullett Arena on the Arizona State University campus, recording twice the total wins (42) there than they have managed on the road (21).

It was intended to be a temporary solution while Meruelo made progress in building an NHL-quality arena in the area. This progress never happened. However, despite the frustration over the facilities and the tense ownership situation, there were clearly mixed feelings from the players as they prepared for what was likely to be a final round around the Mullet.

“It really feels like an advantage playing on home ice,” veteran forward Alex Kerfoot said. “Obviously we only have one game left, so it will be fun to put on a show for them – one last home game – and say thank you for all the support they've given us.”

It will be a scene unlike any the NHL has seen in the age of social media, since the Atlanta Thrashers were traded to Winnipeg in 2011 more than six weeks after playing their final game at Phillips Arena.

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The Coyotes have lived a tortured life for 28 years in the desert since they arrived from Winnipeg — filled with property instability, bankruptcy court hearings and getting the boot from their last home in Glendale because of unpaid bills — but they also put down roots here.

Hot ticket Wednesday. The cost of available seats on StubHub as of Tuesday night ranged between $400 and $4,499. Fans gathered in the parking lot before the team's final practice to shake hands with players and staff as they arrived.

“Arizona is my home,” Cross said. “Over the eight years (I've played here), they've been a fantastic support through all the ups and downs. They mean a lot not only to me, but to all my teammates. Grateful to have them by our side.”

“We will definitely be emotional,” Turini added.

All signs point to it being an unofficial farewell.

The NHL has scheduled a virtual call with its board of governors on Thursday, according to league sources, where a formal vote could be taken to move the franchise's hockey operations division to Salt Lake City if a deal is completed by that point.

Meanwhile, for players and staff, there is one game remaining on the schedule. They need only look to Edmonton's 9-2 win over San Jose on Monday for an example of how bad things could get if they lose the task at hand. And so the focus of this final exercise was to try to make sure that didn't happen.

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“If we don’t show up and don’t play a good hockey game, it’s going to ruin everything,” Turrini said. “The support from the fans last week and the atmosphere around that game tomorrow and people talking about that game, that's what motivates me. People have been (nothing) but great for us, so we want to be great for them.

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(Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

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