Tucson council approves deal for Coyotes' minor-league team
The Arizona Coyotes top minor-league affiliate will play the 2016-17 season 120 miles down the road in Tucson.
The move became certain Tuesday night when the Tucson city council voted 7-0 to approve a lease agreement with the Coyotes for the Tucson Convention Center.
"Tucson is obviously the second largest market here in Arizona," Coyotes President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said in a statement released by the team. "It's one that's a short two-hour drive from our NHL facility in Glendale. But most importantly, it's a market that we've been looking at since we bought the team three years ago. We've looked at the amount of hockey in this area. We've also looked at the number of people in the area that are buying Coyotes tickets and driving two hours, and it's tens of thousands of people every year. So we knew this was a market that can support hockey. We're just beyond thrilled to finally get this approved."
The Tucson Convention Center can seat about 6,700 fans for hockey.
The move also should create some competitive advantages for the franchise -- allowing more roster flexibility for quicker call-ups when injuries and illness occur.
"It's a huge benefit," coach Dave Tippett said. "Especially when you've got young players, you'd like to flip somebody out for another guy. Sometimes you're sending a message, sometimes you're just looking at a guy.
"We never had the ability to do that. To have depth so close, where you can keep track of each other, watch each other's games every night, it's a benefit we haven't had. Talking to people out here on the West Coast (who have nearby minor-league franchises) -- it wasn't just a benefit, they can't believe how much of a benefit it was.
"In that respect they were all ahead of us, and now we're on a level playing field."
The AHL's Pacific Division also includes teams in San Diego (Anaheim Ducks affiliate), Ontario, Calif. (Los Angeles Kings), Bakersfield, Calif. (Edmonton Oilers), San Jose (Sharks), and Stockton, Calif. (Calgary Flames).
The next step in the process is to name the team. The Coyotes are taking suggestions from fans at www.arizonacoyotes.com/nameourAHLteam.
The team played last season as the Springfield Falcons in Springfield, Mass. The American Hockey League Board of Governors approved the same of the team to the Coyotes last week.
"This is a huge step for the whole organization," Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. "I think our ownership group stepped up in a huge way. Moving the AHL team to Tucson really allows for integration and alignment of our entire organization, from top to bottom, at a whole other level."