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NEWARK, N.J. — This was supposed to be the Logan Cooley show.
The Coyotes rookie and 2022 No. 3 overall draft pick had about 15 family members and friends in attendance at Prudential Center to watch his NHL debut. For a change, national broadcast media were not fawning over Blackhawks forward Connor Bedard. And to top it off, the Coyotes were facing the fast and skilled New Jersey Devils — a matchup perfectly suited for Cooley to build on that ridiculous preseason goal that he scored against the Kings half a world away in the NHL Global Series.
Cooley did not disappoint. He had a second assist on defenseman Sean Durzi’s power-play goal that gave Arizona a two-goal lead early in the second period. And he had a spectacular backhand pass across the slot to set up forward Nick Schmaltz for the game-tying goal on a power play with 6:05 left in regulation.
But this Coyotes rally on the road for a 4-3 shootout win against a budding Cup contender was so much more than Cooley. There were two primary assists from Clayton Keller. There were goals from two defenseman, with Matt Dumba getting things started. There were spectacular saves from Karel Vejmelka, who was at times too busy, but overall effective in the win.
There was Schmaltz winning board battles to get critical puck retrievals on power plays, backchecking to strip opponents of pucks and then scoring the clinching shootout goal to cap a night when he was arguably the best Coyote on the ice. There was Nick Bjugstad’s surprise and successful appearance at the start of the shootout.
And there was the way the Coyotes got up off the mat after squandering that two-goal lead and falling behind 3-2 late in the second period.
“We all know where we were on the road last year,” coach André Tourigny said of a league-worst 7-29-5 record. “We were just joking with [assistant coach] John Madden that that was our first comeback win on the road in two years. We did a lot of good things. We had a great training camp and we played against an elite team tonight so we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could play at that level.
“If we want to be successful, we need to play at a pace where we will disturb the timing of our opponent. That is not easy. That’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of energy night and night out, but that’s what we have to do and the guys were ready right from the beginning.”
That group included Cooley, who took the customary rookie lap while his parents beamed with pride.
“It’s hard to believe that he’s making this transition,” his mom, Cathy said. “We can still picture him playing mini-sticks with his older brothers and it’s easy to remember him as a little guy just learning to skate. Time flies but it’s been an unbelievable ride and we just can’t say enough how proud we are of him and how happy we are that he’s gotten to fulfill this dream that he has had since he put on his first pair of skates.”
Cooley’s night stood in contrast to Bedard’s first two games in which he logged more than 21 minutes each night; the most of any Chicago forward. Although the Coyotes’ game went to overtime, Cooley still logged just 19:02 of ice time, which ranked fourth among Arizona forwards.
Before the game, Tourigny said he had seen enough of Cooley during the preseason to know that he was ready for this moment. Tourigny knows that there will be pieces of Cooley’s game that need refinement as the season moves foreward, and he knows that he will have to manage Cooley’s lofty expectations for himself. On this night, however, the coach just wanted the player to drink it all in.
Cooley managed to do so while still delivering glimpses of what is to come.
“It’s kind of hard not to think about all the things going on,” he said. “But honestly, I thought I did a pretty good job of staying focused, not paying attention too much to the outside noise and just honestly trying to enjoy and have fun and help the team win. And, you know, that’s kind of what happened tonight.
“When I first stepped on the ice, no bucket, you’re a little bit nervous. You don’t want to fall, you don’t want to whiff on a puck. But I think once you get that first shift over with, you kind of settle in a little bit and the nerves kind of go away and it’s just another hockey game.”
About the only complaint for the Coyotes on this night was the rash of penalties they took that helped the Devils rally.
“We tried to work in the entertainment business by putting them back in the game,” Tourigny quipped.
“Obviously, we don’t want to take seven penalties a night,” Schmaltz added. “We’ve been doing that for three preseason games and now [Friday]. We’ve got to stay out of the box, but you know, we found a way. We dug deep and that’s what good teams do.”
Top photo via Getty Images: Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz celebrates his game-tying goal with Logan Cooley and Barrett Hayton.
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