Arizona Rubber

Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Authoritative Voice of Ice and Inline Hockey

Michalek enjoying third stint in desert with Coyotes

 

during the NHL game at Gila River Arena on October 30, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.

Lights, action, glamour.

This is part of the eye-opening experience felt by most professional athletes. Big contracts, big entourage, big splash in the media and a bulls-eye for national attention. From humble beginnings to the glare of notoriety, this is the kind of life-style which awaits whose who signed the attractive contracts.

Not quite.

Just ask Arizona Coyotes’ defenseman Zbynek Michalek and center Antoine Vermette. Each played parts of several seasons with the Coyotes, dealt to other teams, but chose to come back to the desert for reasons other than glory. This was not for the glitter of Glendale, to be spotted at local restaurants, to ride as marshals in parades or for the sake of being recognized in public places.

There is a certain appeal to Arizona and a laid-back, comfortable atmosphere which continues to draw Michalek and Vermette back to their hockey glory days. Vermette was part of the club that took the Los Angeles Kings to five games in the Western Conference Finals in 2012 and Michalek was an important part of the transition team in 2009-10 that bridged the franchise from mediocrity into Stanley Cup playoff contention.

For Michalek, this season represents his third tour of duty in the desert, and the native of Jindrichuv Hradec, in the Czech Republic keeps coming back for more.

“This area is great for my family,” he said. “Because of the weather, there are so many attractions and so many things to do. What I really like about the area is that it’s clean and safe. That’s important for us as family and for my kids.”

With son, Andreas, and daughter, Ella, participating in several sports, including golf, soccer and hockey, Michalek points out the area is ideal for outdoor activities every day of the year.

That’s a far change from his previous hockey locales.

Signed as a free agent by Minnesota in 2001, the 33-year-old Michalek played part of only one season with the Wild and was traded to the Coyotes for Erik Westrum on Aug. 26, 2005. Following the 2009-10 season, Michalek signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent, but was traded back to the Coyotes as part of a three-team deal between the Coyotes, Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. Then it was on to the St. Louis Blues in a trade last March before returning to the desert as a free agent last summer.

“You go about your business and don’t get recognized,” Michalek said. “For our family, that’s great. It’s like we’re under the radar screen. This is a tremendous place to raise a family.”

While the desert, with its ideal climate and open spaces, appeals to many, there are other considerations to attract hockey players to the American southwest.

“The quality of life here is important, but also players who want to come here need to recognize that this is an organization that does things the right way,” said coach Dave Tippett. “As a team, we want to be competitive and at the same time, treat the players right.”

In discussions with other players and his agent, Michalek said he stresses the conducive lifestyle. Then again, he points out, it’s up the individual player, his needs and expectations, whether to be sold on Arizona as an Ideal living environment or to pursue other hockey markets.

After Vermette scored two goals in the Stanley Cup Finals last spring for the Chicago Blackhawks and help guide Chicago to its second league championship in a three-year period, his star immediate rose. Previously traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Coyotes during the 2011-12 season, the 33-year-old native of St. Agapit, Quebec, spent parts of four seasons in the desert before going to Chicago at the trade deadline last March.

“Coming back here was the right fit for me,” Vermette said. “We have good friends here, there is good chemistry on this team and I have great memories here. We’re very comfortable here and it’s a great place for my family.”

Photo/Getty Images

— Mark Brown