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Arizona Coyotes open up at ASU's Mullett Arena. The good and the bad of this 5,000 capacity venue

The Arizona Coyotes hosted the Winnipeg Jets in their 2022-23 home opener at the newly minted Mullett Arena in downtown Tempe, Arizona.


The reviews from the 5,000 (4,600 last night due to certain sections being for media only) capacity Arizona State University sports complex were mixed among players, fans and the media. I watched the game last night, and listened to the pre-game, post-game and intermission interviews with the people from inside the building, and I felt it was a good idea to recap the positives and the negatives of this new, strange experience for a professional sports franchise.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

 

The Positive


ASU's student section/discounts


Mullett Arena and Arizona Coyotes announced that they would be selling tickets to ASU students at a major discount, and that there would be a designated student section and an area for a marching band to sit, giving Coyotes games a true college game day experience.


Why do I say that this is a good thing? Think about it, if you were a young, drunk college student who could go sit basically up against the glass to see a professional sports team play on your campus for $25, who's saying no to that? For a franchise that has historically struggled at bringing in fans, this could be a great thing for the Coyotes. This draws more students in, and there's a great chance that you can make life-long-fans out of the students, kids who otherwise might've never paid attention to hockey. Now you're giving them a reason to root for a team, a reason to pay attention to the sport. I personally think it's going to be good in the long run for the Coyotes fanbase, and a good chance for the NHL to grow the game in the desert, something that Gary Bettman is strangely so hellbent on doing.


After all, if it wasn't for the Arizona Coyotes, Auston Matthews would be playing baseball, which according to his father, was Matthews' best sport growing up. The guy just scored 60 goals last year and is a top three player in the NHL. He might've been the next Nolan Ryan had he stuck with baseball.

 

Small, intimate environment


"I thought the energy of the crowd was great. Something that we've missed as players, especially guys that have been here for a while. It's loud, and the fans are cheering for us. That's all we really care about. It's a cool little rink."

Arizona Coyotes forward, Christian Fischer


Now, did I expect the players to start bashing their fanbase in their first game at their new arena? Absolutely not. But even players from the visiting team, the Winnipeg Jets, also had nice things to say about the arena's environment. Jets' forward, Cole Perfetti, said that it was "unique," stating that "It's pretty cool to be the first team to ever be a part of this. It's weird. But it's cool."


Winnipeg Jets' star forward, Pierre-Luc Dubois went on to tell ESPN in a post-game interview that he thought the ice at Mullett Arena was "the best playing ice in the league." To have an NHL star of Dubois' caliber praise your hard work? That one had to have felt good for the maintenance crew. Usually, ice at new arenas is criticized, as the maintenance crew tries their best to adjust to their new environment, and possibly new equipment and machinery.


"[The] crowd included a packed ASU student section, where fans dressed as bananas and characters from the Netflix series "Squid Game" helped generate the majority of the game's chants. A drumline added collegiate flavor. Every fan in the building was given a Coyotes T-shirt and a commemorative mullet, with blonde hair cascading down from a headband that read 'Go Coyotes Go!'"

ESPN's Greg Wyshynski

 

This is only temporary


Remember, while we are having fun with this new, strange experience early on, this is still only temporary for the Coyotes. As of right now, they're only expected to call Mullett Arena home for the next three seasons, four at most.


The Coyotes organization and their fans swear that once their new arena is built, everyone will see what a truly dedicated fanbase the Coyotes have. Their old arena in Glendale was supposedly incredibly difficult to get to, which deterred a lot of fans from attending games in person. The people of Phoenix state that the Coyotes are beloved in their city, and I really hope for their sake that they're right. I'm rooting for them, and I personally want to see this team succeed in that market.

 

The Negative


This is still a really bad look for the NHL and Gary Bettman


It doesn't really matter how you look at things, whether you're a Coyotes fan or someone who's never paid attention to hockey before, you have to admit that this is slightly embarrassing and not an ideal situation whatsoever.


This is a $400 million professional sports franchise, representing the premiere pro hockey league in the entire world, and they're playing in front of less than 5,000 people. The NBA, MLB and NFL are pointing and laughing at our game for allowing this to happen. Winnipeg Jets' veteran forward, Blake Wheeler, said it best last night, "I played in front of ten," eluding to his college playing days with the University of Minnesota.

Yes, as I stated above, this is only temporary. Everyone is talking about how only a few short years from now, the Coyotes will be playing in their newly constructed $2.1 billion arena. What everyone seems to be missing, however, is that this "new arena" hasn't even been voted on yet. As of right now, it's just a proposal. We still have no idea whether or not the city will approve of this new arena. Gary Bettman and the NHL are sinking millions of dollars into saving this franchise, when we're not even 100% sure whether the city they call home even wants them around anymore.


If you pay any attention to the MLB, then you might remember that the Arizona Diamondbacks faced a very similar issue a few years ago, when Maricopa County gave the team permission to start seeking a new home after the team sued for $187 million over neglected repairs to Chase Field. Cleary the city of Phoenix has no reservations over letting their professional sports teams walk.

There are dozens of other cities in North America that are absolutely clamoring for an NHL franchise. For years now, Houston Rockets ownership has been seriously pursing bringing an NHL team to the Toyota Center, but after the league opted to expand to Las Vegas and Seattle instead, it seems that the only way in which Houston can acquire an NHL team is by relocation only. Even more than Houston, the people of Quebec City are desperate to have their beloved Nordiques back. Other cities that are interested in calling the NHL home are Kansas City, Milwaukee, Halifax, Portland, and Salt Lake City. All of these aforementioned cities (aside from Halifax, QC and KC) have NBA teams, meaning that they already have the facilities needed in order to host an NHL team.


I'm not calling for the relocation of the Arizona Coyotes. Like I've said, I want to see this team succeed and I hate seeing fans have their teams ripped away from them. But we're all still scratching our heads as to why Gary Bettman is so set on keeping this franchise in Arizona. The biggest reason is probably because of the fact that Arizona is experiencing rapid population growth, in fact, they're #1 in the United States over the last five years in growth. But like I said, we aren't even sure if the Coyotes have a future home in the state. Their future in Arizona is still so shrouded in mystery.


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