Uncle’s guidance makes Arizona a second home for Coyotes’ Capobianco
Kyle Capobianco and Randy Exelby were resigned to breaking a longstanding family tradition last summer. Kyle was to be draft eligible in 2015 and NHL prospect camps normally run concurrently with Exelby’s goalie school in the Valley.
Both figured last July would be the last time Capobianco could serve as a guest shooter at his uncle’s camp — a role he’d filled since he was 5 years old.
"It was kind of sad because I’ve always looked forward to my nephews coming down and shooting at the camp; spending time with me," Exelby said of Kyle and his older brothers, Chris and Tony. "Last year, Tony came down, but Chris stopped playing a few years ago. We figured this was it."
Credit the Coyotes with maintaining important familial bonds.
Arizona selected Capobianco in the third round (63rd overall) of the June draft and, as luck would have it, the Coyotes prospect development camp ran the same week as Exelby’s Behind the Mask Goalie School. Better yet, both were scheduled at the Ice Den in Scottsdale.
"They got off the ice at 3:20 and we started at like 3:30," Exelby said. "You couldn’t have timed it any better."
Capobianco didn’t take part in the school earlier in the week because Coyotes prospects had additional off-ice duties, but he was back on the ice with his uncle on Friday.
"My uncle Randy has been really good for me; almost like a brother or friend figure," Capobianco said. "It’s definitely comforting knowing that he’s here in a city where I hope to be playing soon."
Exelby has a deeper understanding of Phoenix hockey history than most residents. He played for the Roadrunners in the 1989-90 season and always knew he wanted to retire here. He owns Behind the Mask, a chain of Valley hockey equipment stores and is deeply involved in the hockey community.
His goalie school is in its 29th year, so it was up and running before the Capobiancos started coming, but Kyle has fond memories of childhood summers spent in Arizona.
"I remember going to the camp at Oceanside (Ice Arena), I remember playing baseball outside and I remember P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps. Those are really good," he said, laughing. "My uncle lives on a golf course so we would go out and hit balls after hours and trash talk. He only had right-handed clubs and I hit left so I had to flip the club around and still try to hang with him."
Exelby shared his experiences from playing pro hockey in the AHL, IHL and ECHL. He also played two games in the NHL, including his debut in 1989 where he famously replaced Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy for three minutes against the Buffalo Sabres because Roy had to go to the bathroom.
Exelby never ascribed much significance to those "war stories" or the advice he gave Kyle on his hockey future during those summer visits. Capobianco sure did.
"He was always pushing me and he knew what it took to get there so I definitely listened and learned," Capobianco said. "I couldn’t have made it here without him."
When Kyle was smaller, Exelby had him shoot tennis balls at him on the street. While the uncle insists Capobianco still can’t score on him in street ball, Capobianco counters that Exelby bruises easily.
"I don’t strap on the pads any more on the ice but I’m pretty sure he could score on me out there now," Exelby said. "It’s been pretty cool watching him develop into such a good player.
Capobianco’s strengths are his skating and his vision. While he isn’t expected to make the roster this year — he turns 18 in August — he didn’t feel out of place at the prospect development camp.
"I felt like I played my game and my game is playing fast," he said. "I’m just trying to make a good impressions, but they still want me to put on some weight — good weight where I can still be fast."
However long it takes him to reach the NHL club, Capobianco (6-1, 180) knows he’ll have at least one fan in the stands every game; one guy with whom the house rules are little more relaxed than they were back home.
"He allows us to do stuff that my mom would never allow us to do," Capobianco said with a laugh. "It’s OK to print that. She knows."