GLENDALE, Ariz. – Shane Doan and Mike Smith saw each other in the hallway and shared a bear hug, taking turns lifting each other off the ground.
Mikkel Boedker roamed around lost, peeking into doors, asking anyone who would listen where he was supposed to be.
Mike Ribeiro, his hat askew, bounded out of a doorway and chatted with a few of his new teammates, while Keith Yandle, in full uniform, ducked into a room for a photo shoot.
The bowels of Jobing.com Arena were buzzing with activity on Wednesday, reporting day for the Phoenix Coyotes.
The first day of training camp is always an exciting time, even if it filled with tedious tasks like physicals, meetings and media obligations.
For the Coyotes, it had an extra buzz because of what happened before the organized chaos began: New owners George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc addressed the team.
“When you have an owner address your group the first morning of training camp, that’s different, something we haven’t had here in a while, so that’s a positive,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
The Coyotes had been waiting for this day since 2009, when the NHL bought the team after former owner Jerry Moyes took it into bankruptcy.
For each of the previous four seasons, the Coyotes said many of the same things: They were optimistic a new owner would come forward, they hoped the team would stay in the desert, they would try not to let the situation become a distraction.
They managed to make it work the first three years, using the lack of an owner as an underdog’s rallying point to make the playoffs each year, including the franchise’s first NHL division title and first trip to the Western Conference finals in 2012.
The future still uncertain, the Coyotes had their run of playoff appearances end last season, when the combination of a lockout-shortened season, key injuries and the weight of the ownership situation left them four points out of the West’s final playoff spot.
Phoenix’s fortunes changed over the summer, when Gosbee and LeBlanc brought together a group of investors to buy the team. After some tense negotiations with the city of Glendale on an arena lease deal, IceArizona completed its purchase of the team, finally giving the Coyotes and their fans the dose of stability they had been waiting so long for.
“It’s exciting because the last few years have obviously been a bit more difficult, almost an apology when you talk about the team,” said Doan, the Coyotes’ captain. “The ability to have a stable ownership—not only ownership, but the type of guys we have in there right now—everyone’s excited.”
The new ownership group had an impact on the team even before they finished the purchase, their presence leading Tippett and Smith, the team’s No. 1 goalie, to remain with the team despite the lure of potentially more lucrative deals elsewhere.
Once they took over the reins, the owners gave the front office more financial leeway, which helped the Coyotes land centre Ribeiro, the type of top-line scorer that had been out of the team’s monetary reach the past four years.
The stability of ownership and the chance to be competitive on and off the ice ratcheted up excitement within the team and with its fan base.
With it will come added expectations.
Though they would never consider using it, the Coyotes of the past four years always had the excuse of not having an owner. Making the playoffs three years running was viewed as a bigger accomplishment because of the ownership saga and last year’s just-miss was written off, in part, because of the off-ice circumstances surrounding the team.
With owners in place, talented players and a system ingrained in four seasons under Tippett, the Coyotes no longer have a fallback.
They will be expected to win.
“In a lot of ways the past four years, we were kind of wards of the state, poor Coyotes, this and that,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “We never used it that way, but now I think it’s different. With strong, stable ownership, we have no excuses for lack of performance.”
It has certainly added to the excitement level.