Coyotes officially return to the ice
The hallways were all but deserted, the concession stands closed. Water only trickled from the bathroom faucets, the paper towel machines were turned off. The 100-or-so fans scattered in the stands were dwarfed by thousands of empty seats reaching up to the rafters.
Down at the center of Jobing.com Arena, on the freshly placed ice, the Phoenix Coyotes brought the long-dormant arena to life with the sounds of cutting skates, slamming bodies and pucks thwacking off the glass.
After four months of waiting for the NHL lockout to end, this is just what the players and their fans needed.
''This is great, not something you normally get to see,'' said Coyotes fan Nick Myers of Surprise. ''Most of the time, you get to watch game situations and to see something like this, the drills they get to run, is awesome.''
The real games will start this weekend, leaving a short window for preparation.
Most NHL teams jumped on the chance to get a first workout in after the lockout officially ended on Saturday, hitting the ice on Sunday for their first full workouts.
The Coyotes took a different route.
Most of Phoenix's players are already in good shape after playing overseas, in the minors or together during informal workouts at the team's Scottsdale practice facility. During their last informal workout on Saturday, the team went so hard coach Dave Tippett opted to go with an optional skate for the team's first workout on Sunday.
The defending Pacific Division champion, Phoenix essentially has just three new players and a system that's been in place for three years, so the five days of training camp before Saturday's opener at Dallas was more like a refresher course for the players rather than a scramble to catch up.
''I mentioned to the guys earlier in meetings, it feels like we just came out of an All-Star break or something like that - we've got the same team there,'' Tippett said. ''The guys understand what we're trying to do. We don't have to put a lot of time explaining terms or what we're going to do.''
The Coyotes are holding open practices all week as they prepare for the season, giving fans a rare chance to watch workouts at Jobing.com Arena. The team also will have a scrimmage Wednesday night that's free to fans.
For Monday's workout, the fans sat mostly in two sections along the West side of the arena, watching as the players went through about a two-hour practice that was broken into two segments.
Tippett and his staff had the players mostly working on close-space situations in drills and closed the second session with a hard-skating scrimmage.
''It's just making sure we touch on everything this week,'' Tippett said. ''We've got some special teams stuff we want to look at and some faceoff stuff we want to look at, but you just want to make sure your team can go out there and play with some good structure and that the mindset is in the right place. You're going to have some short shifts, but you've got to put the work in and get off the ice because it's going to take some time for everyone to get up to speed.''
The fans who showed up seemed to appreciate seeing the Coyotes on the ice with a purpose.
The players hit the ice to applause and the fans let out a big cheer when new forward Steve Sullivan whipped a shot past goalie Jason LaBarbera. Some nifty stickhandling by Lauri Korpikoski drew some oohs and ahhs and the session ended with the players tapping their sticks on the ice and raising them above their heads to applause from the fans.
''It's tough when you come out of a lockout situation like this; some fans may lose interest or forget about hockey,'' Myers said. ''Hopefully, they'll start winning again and more people will come out again.''
Though it was just one practice in front of about 100 people, Monday was a start for the Coyotes and their fans.