If you have been following hockey news over the past few days, then you probably already know that the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to the Ice Arizona group has been the dominant headline. The end of the four year ownership saga has brought a sense of relief / joy to Coyotes fans, as well as frustration and anger from those who would have liked to see the team move. I think every hockey fan who has paid attention to the showdown in Glendale this Summer has felt some range of those emotions. There have been enough articles published already that break down the finances of the deal and project how the next few years could go. What has been lost in all this is what really matters: the hockey fan.
As Blue Jackets fans, I think we can find some common ground with Phoenix fans. We are both relatively new hockey markets that have faced many roadblocks along the way of our NHL existence. Whether it be the Coyotes ownership issues, or the Blue Jackets single foray into the postseason, fans of both franchises have had to deal with disappointment and uncertainty. Take a look at the jokes and jabs aimed at Coyotes fans and I am sure you will see many that are also aimed at Columbus fans. While the financial and ownership situation in Phoenix may be different, the Coyotes and Blue Jackets are very similar.
I can’t help but feel happy for the fans of the Coyotes that stuck this long four years out. I’ll admit there were times I wondered if the team was worth saving, but one image I saw at the end of the 2011-2012 season always stuck with me and reminded me of what was at stake. At that time it was once again unknown whether the Coyotes would be around the following season, so it was an emotional night for the fans at Jobbing.com Arena. The image that really changed my opinion on the Coyotes was a father with his young son, both wearing Coyotes gear, and the kid is in tears. He understood and thought that this was the last time he would be seeing his favorite team play. These false “final goodbyes” to the Coyotes reminded me of Cleveland Browns fans in the Dawg Pound grabbing and hugging the players at the final game at Cleveland Stadium, but at least there the fans knew it was the end.
The Jackets are fortunate that they have had strong ownership and a sound arena deal that will keep the team in Columbus. However, imagine being faced with the thought of seeing the team play for the last time. Imagine trying to explain to your kids that the team they love is going somewhere else. It isn’t just revenue generation, arena leases, and bank loans. There is a human side to every franchise in the NHL. We love the team we support and would do nearly anything to ensure they stick around.
I admire the fans of Phoenix who felt strongly enough to go to City Hall and voice their opinion. While many mocked them and made jokes about the franchise that they supported, these fans showed their support when their team needed it the most. Would you not do the same for the Blue Jackets? With new ownership comes the chance for the fans in Phoenix to finally have some stability and will hopefully allow for the hockey market in Phoenix to grow.