In A Devilish Mood: Such a treat to see hockey booming in the Valley
Coming from the housing industry and knowing the similarities between the Vegas market and the Valley, I feel pretty confident in saying that I know that answer.
I was introduced to the Valley of the Sun 25 years ago when I came here to play for the Phoenix Roadrunners.
The ice hockey scene was pretty thin back then.
Our home arena was Veterans Memorial Coliseum, AKA the Madhouse on McDowell, and I remember finding it kind of strange that we, as professional hockey players, found ourselves often driving to the Coliseum, getting dressed in our gear, and then getting in our cars and driving to one of the other two rinks in the Valley for practice. After practice, we would get in our vehicles, smelly and still in our gear, and drive back to the Coliseum to shower up.
You see, the two other rinks in the Valley (Oceanside Ice Arena and Tower Plaza) did not have adequate shower facilities for us prima donna minor leaguers, or something like that. It was a long time ago!
The point is that there were only two other hockey facilities in the Valley. I believe between the three facilities, there were two youth hockey associations – VOSHA and DYHA – and high school hockey did not exist. This landscape is probably very similar to present-day Vegas.
Everything changed in the Valley in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Phoenix Coyotes. Two years later, the Valley of the Sun finally got recognized as a big market in sports with professional teams in the four major sports when the Diamondbacks and Coyotes joined the Cardinals and Suns.
While the Roadrunners had a long history in the Valley and a decent following, it was the hockey at the NHL level with the Coyotes that started Phoenix on its way to becoming a top-notch youth hockey location.
Let’s take a look at what has happened in 25 short years.
While there is no longer hockey played at the Coliseum, the other two rinks are still around and thriving. Tower Plaza is now known as AZ Ice Arcadia and is home to one of the Valley’s two Tier I programs, the Arizona Bobcats. Oceanside is much improved and is not only the home rink for the DYHA Jr. Sun Devils, one of the Valley’s six travel associations, but also for the ASU D-I men’s program, two men’s ACHA teams and one women’s team. Who would have imagined 25 years ago that there would be professional and D-I hockey in the desert?
In addition to the original two facilities, the Valley has added nine sheets between four new facilities that also brought four house leagues, providing hockey for kids of all skills. The four new facilities also paved the way for the emergence of the Arizona High School Hockey Association, which started in 1999 and has grown to 34 teams competing in four separate divisions.
The other big improvement we have seen in recent years is the quality coaching we have for our kids. With the Valley being such a popular relocation destination, it has attracted a ton of ex-professional and college players as well as knowledgeable hockey people, both men and women.
The first pick of the 2016 NHL Draft was Scottsdale’s Auston Matthews. He scored four goals in his first professional game and his bio states that he grew up watching the Coyotes. I think it is safe to say that he won’t be the last draft pick who calls the Valley his home.
Yes, sir, I would say that hockey in the Valley is BOOMING and is only going to get better.
Brad McCaughey is the director of hockey and coach-in-chief for DYHA.
(Nov. 15, 2017)