Wildcats and Coyotes promote hockey in the desert
The Arizona hockey team earned a No. 16 seed in the ACHA Division I national tournament. The team plays Western Michigan University on March 3rd.
The Arizona hockey team made history on Friday night as they played the Arizona Coyotes NHL alumni team for the first time in program history.
Several former NHL and professional players traveled down to Tucson to take on the Wildcats in an exhibition style game.
Among the players representing the Coyotes alumni was Wayne McBean, a first round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 1987 NHL entry draft.
“Our main focus is to help grow hockey in Arizona,” McBean said prior to the start of the game.
The Coyotes alumni team was started seven years ago by McBean and former NHL players Tim Watters, Dave Ellett and Greg Adams.
Watters’ son Eric played on the Coyotes alumni team with his father on Friday, but is known in Tucson for his tenure on the Arizona hockey club.
“I think it really just kind of raises the awareness,” Watters said on the impact of the game. “Hopefully it piques interest in hockey a little bit more down here.”
The game itself featured plenty of offense as the Coyotes alumni won by a score of 14-8. Instead of three traditional 20 minute periods, the game was played in two 30 minute halves with a running clock.
“It was like a little bit of an all-star game, not a lot of hitting because we actually told them not to,” said UA forward Robbie Wilkinson with a grin on his face.
Wilkinson said it was an amazing experience to play against players who have had over 1,000 games of NHL experience.
“For those guys [Coyotes alumni] you can put any puck in their feet or anything and they somehow get it and score,” Wilkinson said.
The Coyotes alumni’s skill was on full display all night long, but especially in the second half of the game, where they rattled off nine straight goals to balloon their overall goal total to 14.
Charles Kariniemi, a former Swedish league forward dazzled fans with his offensive play as he deposited a hat trick for the Coyotes alumni.
“Were just trying to promote hockey, we’re all people that love the sport a lot,” Kariniemi said. “It’s really exciting to see for me, I’m from Minnesota and I like to see what Arizona is doing with hockey.”
Other notable players on the Coyotes alumni roster were Sean Hill, a former Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 and Jeff Norton, who played 799 games in the NHL and was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team.
Arizona hockey head coach Chad Berman acknowledged how great of an opportunity the night was for fans to come out and see the hometown team take on former pros.
Berman is also aware that the team faces challenges when the Wildcats return to Tucson after the conclusion of winter break.
“It’s time for us to take the next step,” Berman said.
The Wildcats return to action at the Tucson Convention Center on January 8th as they take on the University of Colorado for a two game series with both games scheduled to start at 7:30 P.M.
“In my opinion, they’re one of the five best teams in the country,” Berman said. “We’ve got a real challenge there after break.”