Desert no place for ice hockey

Robin Brownlee
March 26 2009 11:05AM

Wayne Gretzky looks into the desert and contemplates his existence in Phoenix

This just in from the Department Of The Obvious: residents of Phoenix (the people who haven't lost their houses to foreclosure and still live there) don't give two squirts about the Coyotes, let alone the Edmonton Oilers.

We know this because the Coyotes play in a half-empty building, even though they paper Jobing.com Arena with tickets that can be purchased with a used burrito wrapper and two pieces of pocket lint.

Is it really surprising that a city made up largely of condo developments full of leather-faced widows and that has an average age of 117 sucks as a hockey market? Some spring training games at Ho-Ho-Kam Park draw more fans for the Chicago Cubs than the Coyotes do.

That'll be the case again tonight as the Coyotes, out of the playoff race, play out the string against the Oilers and mark the days until golf season officially winds down -- it works in reverse in Arizona because players in the desert hit the links during the season before it gets too hot in May and June.

What the Oilers need to do is forget about all the empty seats and the look on Wayne Gretzky's face that says, "Somebody get me out of here because I'm dying a slow death," and take the two points, which they will, then head for Anaheim.

Get outta town

A recent poll, reported by the Arizona Republic, reinforces what we already know: "Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican survey research firm based in Virginia, conducted phone interviews with 300 Glendale voters on March 23. When asked whether Glendale should give the Coyotes $3 million to $15 million each year to keep the team local or to allow the team to move out of state, 72 percent said to let the NHL team leave."

When I worked the beat, Phoenix was one of my favourite places. It's a great break from winter. There's fine restaurants on almost every corner and it was fun sitting on a patio somewhere on a January night wearing short sleeves and having a cigar with Rod Phillips while people back home where freezing their asses. More on that later.

That said, I never once mistook the Valley of the Sun for a hockey market, even years ago when former GM Mike Barnett first showed Jim Matheson and I a scale model of all the development that's now a reality around the hockey rink.

NHL bossman Gary Bettman should do everybody involved a favour and get behind relocating the franchise. Arizona is a great place to visit, but hockey doesn't sell there. It never will.

Back to Winnipeg, Kansas City, Seattle, wherever.

Desert tales

Between covering the Oilers, spring training for baseball and boxing when Scotty Olson was kicking flyweight backside, I've probably been to Phoenix 25 times on work gigs. Lots of memories...

One of the few times I've seen an NHL player blush was in Scottsdale, and that player was Mike Comrie back in November of 2001.

Comrie, who'd had a great bantamweight scrap with Daniel Briere of the Coyotes at America West Arena the night before, and the rest of the Oilers contingent was gathering around the bus at the Ritz Carlton Hotel before heading to the airport.

It so happened the Orlando Magic were also staying there. Out walks Patrick Ewing, all seven-feet and 260 pounds of him. Ewing, in his final season as a player, went to the Oilers game and saw the fight. He spots Comrie, wanders over and chats him up.

Ewing looks down, way down, at Comrie and says, "You're one bad man. I wouldn't mess with you," instantly drawing guffaws from teammates and setting Mike's cheeks ablaze.

And...

Witnessed easily the best piece of hair-on-fire journalism I've seen in the bowels of America West Arena in 1996.

Mark Spector, now of Sportsnet, was working the Oilers beat at The Journal . I was also in Phoenix for The Journal, covering spring training, and had come in to write a sidebar.

Anyway, with the bus waiting, Spector has his game story done with 15 minutes to spare, a laugher in deadline terms. Problem is, when his computer asks if he wants to "save changes" before he sends, Spec has a brain cramp and hits "No." Story gone. Every word. Empty screen.

Spec re-wrote the piece, about 600 words with a quotes and all, in about 11 minutes and still made the bus. That's smokin'.

During the 1999-2000 NHL season, a colleague and I from another newspaper, who shall remain anonymous, were at a little bar named Eli's, a dimly-lit trendy kind of joint I'd discovered during my baseball days.

Some dame starts chatting up my winger. She wants to dance. She wants to drink. She's all over him. I get the nod that I might have to cab it back to the hotel myself, if you get my drift.

To make a long story short, when the house lights come on at closing time, one glance tells us that we've met somebody who looks like Joe Frazier, and he's wearing a wig.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 dw
March 26 2009, 02:26PM
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baggedmilk wrote:

@ Robin B: Robin, I think my favorite story to date is Marc Crawford looking for a night on the town with all of you guys and then spent the night alone with the Victoria Secret catalog.

I'm betting it was the Sears catalogue.

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#52 baggedmilk
March 26 2009, 02:50PM
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@ dw: @ Gene's Pubes:

*meant Sears catalog*

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#53 Archaeologuy
March 26 2009, 02:52PM
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@ Robin B: Robin do you need an intern? I shower regularly and have a functioning knowledge of the English language.

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#54 TheDerek
March 26 2009, 03:11PM
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dw wrote:

baggedmilk wrote: I’m betting it was the Sears catalogue.

... From 1976

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#55 Peter Pan
March 26 2009, 03:22PM
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@ Robin

Whenever a journalist or media type tell a story about NHL road trips, it seems that everybody and anybody following the teams hang out together, regardless of affiliation or employer. Coaches, players, media,etc going to dine together is great, but don't you think it's a bit mean not to invite the poor referee's out with you? Aren't they part of the family Robin? Aren't they? Sniff

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#56 Chris
March 26 2009, 03:32PM
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Part of the problem in Phoenix is that they have iced a mediocre hockey squad for years... The Phoenix Coyotes are part of a select group of clubs that include our Oilers, The Atlanta Thrashers, The L.A. Kings, The New York Islanders, The Florida Panthers, The Columbus Blue Jackets, and finally, though not for long; The Chicago Blackhawks. (Anyone guess the common denominator?)

These are all teams that have failed to post even ONE 100 point regular season this millenium...

I know the word Millenium is somewhat dramatic... It's just that Lowe took over GM responsibilities in the year 2000.... and pretty much EVERY team in the NHL has taken turns having 100+ point campaigns; except for this sad little group of sub-par hockey clubs. (Even The Leafs have had Two 100 point seasons in the last eight years) Oilers fans keep showing up, like the masocists we are... alway salivating for more...People in Phoenix just go golfing.

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#57 David S
March 26 2009, 03:35PM
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LT busted out Stan Weir for his GDB. That's a sure sign things are getting serious. I'm frakkin' nervous about these next four games. We don't need "must wins" against guys like San Jose.

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#58 SquidRx
March 26 2009, 03:35PM
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GDB! GDB! GDB! GDB!

*marches around office with placard*

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#59 Robin Brownlee
March 26 2009, 03:35PM
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@ Peter Pan: Reporters don't go out for dinner or drinks with coaches or players -- or Marc Crawford. There's a clear separation and pecking order within the travelling contingent*

*Except when Ron Low was coaching and we'd go to Grumpy's in Montreal, Cristy's in Dallas, The Redhead in Chicago . . .

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#60 Harlie Chuddy
March 26 2009, 03:39PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

@ Robin B: Robin do you need an intern?

Watch out for them cigars that Robin likes so much.

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#61 Harlie Chuddy
March 26 2009, 03:40PM
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;)

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#62 Librarian Mike
March 26 2009, 03:43PM
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Here's an image to make you smile (and considering some of Robin's stories, this probably really happened): Centre ice of an empty arena after the game, and Marc Crawford is standing there singing "All By Myself" with tears streaming down his face...

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#63 Bruthah
March 26 2009, 03:44PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

*Except when Ron Low was coaching and we’d go to Grumpy Cristy's, The Redhead, in Chicago . . .

Robin, please elaborate on this "Grumpy Cristy" from Chicago, who is apparently a Redhead........

haw haw haw

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#64 willy fisterbotom
March 26 2009, 04:02PM
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Robin B wrote:

OK, another vignette . . . It was the mid-1990s and I wanted to talk to Phil Esposito about a feature I was doing on Russian players. I track him down at the Ritz in Chicago and the switchboard puts me through to his room. “Phil, it’s Robin, I’m doing this story on Russian players and . . .” Esposito cuts me off. “Just a second, I have to take a crap,” he says. I figure, no problem, I’ll just wait. Turns out Esposito was on the toilet when I called and he’d answered the phone that’s in the washroom of each room. What follows is about a minute of Esposito muttering something about bad clam sauce and a play-by-play of him taking a dump that couldn’t have been any clearer if he’d taped the telephone to his ass. With the flush still echoing, Esposito picks up the telephone and, like he’d never put it down, says, “I hated those f*cking guys.”

HOLY CRAP that a classic

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#65 The Menace
March 26 2009, 04:07PM
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Chris wrote:

The Phoenix Coyotes are part of a select group of clubs that include our Oilers, The Atlanta Thrashers, The L.A. Kings, The New York Islanders, The Florida Panthers, The Columbus Blue Jackets, and finally, though not for long; The Chicago Blackhawks. (Anyone guess the common denominator?)

Umm, teams that have nicknames ending in "s"? teams that will deal with kevin lowe? cities that I've got busy with yo'mama in? give us another hint.

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#66 AlBundy
March 26 2009, 04:09PM
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Is it true the research on why people didn't show up for the final two playoff games for the Oil Kings showed that people who would go to the games stayed home because the OIl Kings are owned by the Oilers and the lunch bucket crowed wanted to send a message to the Oiler brass?

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#67 Archaeologuy
March 26 2009, 04:12PM
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The Menace wrote:

Chris wrote: The Phoenix Coyotes are part of a select group of clubs that include our Oilers, The Atlanta Thrashers, The L.A. Kings, The New York Islanders, The Florida Panthers, The Columbus Blue Jackets, and finally, though not for long; The Chicago Blackhawks. (Anyone guess the common denominator?) Umm, teams that have nicknames ending in “s”? teams that will deal with kevin lowe? cities that I’ve got busy with yo’mama in? give us another hint.

Did raffi torres play for all those clubs?

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#68 The Menace
March 26 2009, 04:15PM
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@ AlBundy: That seems like un unnecessarily complicated way to send a message. if you are unhappy with the Oilers, why wouldn't you stay away from Oiler games? I also think it would be too hard to get the whole "lunch bucket crowd" to act as a cohesive unit like that. too many Thermos arguments.

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#69 Chris
March 26 2009, 04:40PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Did raffi torres play for all those clubs?

Funny. The curse of Raffi Torres...

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#70 Dennis
March 26 2009, 04:57PM
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RB: outstanding stories!

Regarding Gretzky and Phx, wasn't the big allure of the new building that development that Barnett told you about? How did that all work out? Did guys make enough money that the hockey losses aren't all that staggering?

I remember reading about Koules and Barrie and the new Bolts ownership and it seems that the sticking point for them money wise was the inclusion of a piece of land that former owner Davidson was never able to develop. Now, Barrie has the rep of being a mover and shaker so he was confident he could get it all done but that seemed to be the only case where the purchase of the club was a moneymaker and Davidson had failed on a couple of occasions to get construction started.

Given the economic downturn and the difficulty in obtaining financing, I wonder how long it will take in TB before things go bad and/or how bad they're going already.

And I think I'm back to being somewhat envious about covering a club. I've gone on lots of road trips for rec sports and there's been a lot of hard partying and mayhem. You increase the amount of dollars you can throw around and you'll increase the degree of women you can pick up.

And that always makes for a good time:)

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#71 deepoil
March 26 2009, 05:13PM
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Gotta to admit hockey in PHX is cheap and cool - had a vip suite in Feb - booze was $40 - $60 bottle - started the night off in a limo bus to the YARD - dropped a measly $160 for our group of 10..... then ventured into the nonjob.com arena and the oil got a win...... the atmosphere was so service oriented that I forgot that Northlands and winter existed....... anyone going to Scottsdale must use golfnow.com for discounted green fees the phoenician is recommended for $125 instead of $200..... bottom line is the model would of worked if they put it in Scottsdale Tempe where people do not have to drive under the influence - DUI is far worse an offense in AZ than in Canada with jail time..... not worth the risk..... and closer to Barcelona's - and why is 99 not with Janet anymore - did he lose a bet.....

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#72 Common Sense
March 26 2009, 05:20PM
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deepoil wrote:

DUI is far worse an offense in AZ than in Canada with jail time….. not worth the risk…..

It's not worth the risk in Canada either. or anywhere - but I get your point. It should have been in an area where it's not as much of a temptation; where transit or cabs would be available.

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#73 The Pestival
March 26 2009, 05:26PM
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Holy crap I love this site! If the Oilers lose tonight I'm going to reread Rob "The Bod" Brownlee's story about Espo. And from now on I make ALL my phone calls from the throne, on speaker...f yeah!

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#74 David S
March 26 2009, 06:27PM
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The Menace wrote:

@ AlBundy: That seems like un unnecessarily complicated way to send a message. if you are unhappy with the Oilers, why wouldn’t you stay away from Oiler games? I also think it would be too hard to get the whole “lunch bucket crowd” to act as a cohesive unit like that. too many Thermos arguments.

He's (Bundy) baiting/ trolling. That's all.

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#75 AlBundy
March 26 2009, 07:07PM
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Hey David, check with your Union buddies and see what they say. The Union's aren't supporting them and that is a large work force here in Alberta.

Oilers going to be on fire tonight and maybe score more than 8 tonight. @ David S:

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#76 David S
March 26 2009, 09:10PM
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AlBundy wrote:

Hey David, check with your Union buddies and see what they say. The Union’s aren’t supporting them and that is a large work force here in Alberta.

Not for long. Recessions bust unions. One of the few good things about economic downturns.

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#77 deepoil
March 27 2009, 06:19AM
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Common Sense wrote:

deepoil wrote: DUI is far worse an offense in AZ than in Canada with jail time….. not worth the risk….. It’s not worth the risk in Canada either. or anywhere - but I get your point. It should have been in an area where it’s not as much of a temptation; where transit or cabs would be available.

we take a limo when in scottsdale - the problem is that 50% of the attendance are canadians on a golfing bender.... if the Moyes would of went with the Scottsdale Tempe proposal.... a stronger season ticket base could of been more possible - you need a winning team though.... is this the gretzky curse (Moyes) - his owner is still out of jail..... not likely to happen

who is going to take transit to Glendale from Scottsdale - not going to happen - the market is not Glendale - think of Leduc and then think about driving in rush hour to make a 7PM game - NOPE

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#78 Gerryd
March 29 2009, 01:32PM
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I'm an Edmonton in Phoenix for 3 weeks. Saw the Coyotes beat Canucks and the place was sold out. Saw the Coyotes beat the Oilers and there were 14600 fans but across the parking lot was the NCAA Regionals at the same time. We forget that, apart from the weather where you can golf 365/yr, Phoenix people actually have a life and have alternative entertainment choices. There is little else to occupy us in the winter except hockey and shovelling snow. By the way, more snow coming!! I think a winning team in Phoenix would go a long way. What do you think attendance will be like next year in half the markets in the NHL? Bettman was in Phoenix during the Oiler game and he said that there are several Phoenix potential investors interested in keeping the team here. Do you forget the EIG and us nearly losing the Oilers. Give your head a shake.....tough times exist everywhere and there will still be NHL hockey in Phoenix for a long time.

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#79 Robin Brownlee
March 29 2009, 04:49PM
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Gerryd wrote:

I’m an Edmonton in Phoenix for 3 weeks. Saw the Coyotes beat Canucks and the place was sold out. Saw the Coyotes beat the Oilers and there were 14600 fans but across the parking lot was the NCAA Regionals at the same time. We forget that, apart from the weather where you can golf 365/yr, Phoenix people actually have a life and have alternative entertainment choices. There is little else to occupy us in the winter except hockey and shovelling snow. By the way, more snow coming!! I think a winning team in Phoenix would go a long way. What do you think attendance will be like next year in half the markets in the NHL? Bettman was in Phoenix during the Oiler game and he said that there are several Phoenix potential investors interested in keeping the team here. Do you forget the EIG and us nearly losing the Oilers. Give your head a shake…..tough times exist everywhere and there will still be NHL hockey in Phoenix for a long time.

Give my head a shake? I'm guessing the line-up of perspective owners willing to lose $15-25 million a season isn't as long as you think.

Of the 14,600 tickets sold for the game you mention, how many were comps or drastically discounted? Thus, the reference to papering the house. This team hasn't drawn flies in terms of real paid attendance for a long time -- way before the tough times you talk about. But if you want to believe otherwise, go ahead. It's your right to be wrong.

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