Arizona Rubber

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

Shop Talk: These times they are a-changing – and for the better

 

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After we opened our Behind the Mask Scottsdale location in 2010, due to the proximity to the PGA Superstore located in the same plaza a few doors down from us, we got a lot of new people stopping in our store.

Many were from the Midwest, back East and across Canada. They saw our store sign above the window that said “Hockey” and saw window graphics of hockey players.

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This spiked their curiosity.

They would open the door with almost amazement.

Most asked, “Do they play hockey in Arizona?” This was especially of our friends from the Great White North.

They were not hard to pick out, dressed in shorts and short-sleeve shirts in the winter, while I was bundled up with a hoodie or jacket while inside the store. I would respond that they do, and ask where they were from. To my fellow Canadians, I would interject that I was originally from Toronto and this gave me some sort of street cred with them.

This opened the door to further discussions on hockey in Arizona. At this point in time, there was not much on my end that could change the poor perception they had on the state of hockey in Arizona.

And maybe they were right.

The Arizona Coyotes were in a messy bankruptcy that received lots of inaccurate information north of the 49th parallel. At least I got to change the subject when they would ask me if I was a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Back when I grew up, the Maples Leafs were marginal, where my Montreal Canadiens were in the middle of a dynasty – still, in my mind, the most complete hockey team ever assembled.

To combat this, we asked each association, college program and high school program if they could donate a jersey. These jerseys were hung with pride from the high store ceiling. Now when these customers came in, I could point to the many jerseys and say, “Yes, there is hockey played here.”

Fast forward to the new Arizona Coyotes ownership that stopped the people from telling me how much better the Coyotes would draw and be on the ice if they moved. I would bite my tongue, not to remind them of the financial struggles both the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames had over the years.

Then Arizona State University announced that it was going NCAA Division I and now, people wanted to bring back shirts, hoodies, hats – anything that said “ASU Hockey.” News traveled quickly to Canada of the new program. It marked the first time they were asking and not telling me about hockey in Arizona.

They next big change happened a few years ago as word spread of a hockey phenom who honed his skill in the desert. In 2015, when the NHL draft rankings announced Auston Matthews as the preseason favorite to go No. 1 in the 2016 NHL Draft, the buzz grew. And when the draft lottery was won by the Maple Leafs, he was instantly going to be their savior. A player who got his first taste of hockey from going to an Arizona Coyotes NHL game was now the overnight rock star of Maple Leafs Nation.

I can’t wait to see what’s next from Arizona hockey.

Randy Exelby is the owner of Behind The Mask Hockey Shops.