(image via azcentral.com)
By Claire Brookbanks
It’s time to accept that hockey is thriving in Arizona. The Arizona Coyotes are celebrating their 20th season in the Valley, Arizona State hockey is transitioning from a club team to a NCAA Division I program, and the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft is a native of Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s time to stop pushing the narrative that hockey can’t succeed here.
The Coyotes have played a huge role in the growth of hockey in this non-traditional market by simply just playing here. Their play has captivated many young kids including 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews, who fell in love with the sport attending a Phoenix Coyotes game at the age of 2.
When the Coyotes moved to the Valley in 1996 there was around 2,000 enrolled in youth hockey. Today, that number has more than tripled and about 7,200 are enrolled. In 2014-15, Arizona led the nation in new USA hockey memberships as well as having more registered players than 32 other states including Tennessee, North Carolina, and Missouri. Currently, Arizona is home to seven youth teams, two Junior Hockey programs, and three college teams, including a Division I program and it doesn’t even end there. The Coyotes also recently moved their AHL affiliate to Tucson.
While the Coyotes have contributed to the growth of the game by being on the ice, they have also contributed off it. The Arizona Coyotes Hockey Development Program has visited more than 200 schools in the past 4 year, exposing around 120,000 kids to the sport. Desert Hockey Development has also been working to spread the game. The non-profit, founded in 2013, has been working with Glendale to grow the game for more than 2 years and are currently trying to spread similar activities to Tucson, the new home of the Coyotes AHL affiliate.
With professional, youth, and college hockey all succeeding, Arizona has proven that hockey does have a place in the desert.