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MELBOURNE, Australia — Logan Cooley knew the question was coming. It was on every reporter’s and fan’s mind after the Coyotes defeated the Kings, 5-3, in the first game of the NHL Global Series on Saturday.
Cooley wanted to be an NHL player so badly that he went back on his decision to return to the University of Minnesota for sophomore season. He wanted to help the Coyotes turn the corner and win in any way possible. He wanted to be a good teammate, but he also wanted to be a star.
And then he committed a careless turnover on a backhand pass in the neutral zone that led to Adrian Kempe’s goal — a play that cut the Coyotes’ lead to 2-1 and earned him a good-natured ribbing on the bench.
“After that pizza I threw up the middle, I thought I should do something,” Cooley said, drawing laughter from Clayton Keller, who was seated next to him at the postgame podium.
What Cooley did to redeem himself was so special that he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face — especially because he thought he had missed the net (see highlight below).
“The spin-o-rama’s one thing,” Keller said. “But then to have the patience to pull it to your forehand and then finish it, it’s definitely one of the best goals I’ve ever seen.”
Linemate Jason Zucker’s reaction to the goal was priceless and authentic. Defenseman Josh Brown said the reaction on the Coyotes bench was almost like an NBA bench when it sees a great play. When Cooley finally returned to the bench, he got all kinds of love from his teammates.
“The guys were saying, ‘Oh, he redeemed himself and then the guys were cheering him,” coach André Tourigny said. “It’s exciting when you see those kinds of plays. The reaction was sweet on the bench.”
This was, of course, just a preseason game, but between the fully engaged sellout crowd of 13,097, Cooley’s electric goal, and the contributions that the Coyotes got throughout the lineup, it was hard not to walk away from Rod Laver Arena with anything but positive thoughts about Arizona’s first game of the 2023-24 preseason.
In familiar fashion they were outshot 36-20, but the Coyotes got goals from five different players, including Keller (the first NHL goal in the southern hemisphere), Matias Maccelli (yes, he actually shot the puck), Lawson Crouse and an empty-netter from Barrett Hayton.
“It was a super fun game,” said Cooley, who also scored the lone goal in an exhibition shootout after regulation. “It was a great atmosphere to play in.”
Josh Doan shines at Rookie Faceoff
Sometimes statistics don’t tell the full tale of a player’s performance. In Josh Doan’s case, they speak loud and clear.
Doan led all Coyotes at the Rookie Faceoff in Las Vegas this week with four goals and seven points in three games. It was the way he did it that had Coyotes director of player development Lee Stempniak so impressed
“His skating has really improved,” Stempniak said. “He looks faster, quicker and he’s got a great hockey sense of where players are on the ice and where to move the puck.
“He showed real competitiveness in his desire to track back, lift sticks and play physical. He was our most complete player.”
Doan has always been viewed as a late bloomer because his growth spurt came later in life. That allowed him to develop the skill side of his game before the Doan genes took over and he grew to his current height of 6 feet 2.
“I don’t think he’s nearly at the end of the curve in terms of learning how to use his body and leverage it into his game,” Stempniak said. “But his testing numbers have really gone up with his lower body and it has translated into his stride. It also allows him to be around the puck more.”
Doan is expected to start his first full season with the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL. When he left ASU after his sophomore season last spring, some analysts wondered if he might have been better served by spending another year with the Sun Devils, but Doan adjusted to the AHL quickly and coach Steve Potvin praised his all-around game and development.
The Coyotes 2023-24 roster is all but set, but it would not be a surprise to see Doan get some games at the NHL level this season.
Other notable Coyotes rookies
Aside from Doan, Stempniak praised the progress of center Conor Geekie who had three goals and six points in the Rookie Faceoff.
“He actually started slow and was good by the last game,” Stempniak said. “He was below average in the first game. He wasn’t up on his toes and he wasn’t always engaged. We talked to him before the second game and he was much better, and then in the third game, he had his best effort.
“You can see his hockey sense and his size advantage, breaking up plays and smothering opponents when he’s playing a complete game. It’s just about finding that consistency where he’s bringing it every night. He has the ability and the tools to impact games every night. A lot of the work that he has put in is on his skating and he has taken a step so that’s a good start.”
Stempniak said Maksymilian Szuber was the Coyotes’ best defenseman in the tournament and one of the best in the Rookie Faceoff.
“He’s really smart and knows how to use his body for creating separation,” Stempniak said. “He has great reach and he’s always moving the puck up ice; it never dies on his stick.
“Continuing to work on his skating and foot speed will be important things that will help him close defensively and take rushes. This game gets quicker every level you move up. Getting stronger and playing more physically will help him play a harder game. He tends to rely too much on his stick.”
Stempniak also noted that goaltender Anson Thornton looked more composed and sound in his technique. Terrell Goldsmith improved with each game, and Aku Räty also impressed. “You can tell he has played pro hockey,” Stempniak said of Räty. “He has a good stick, he skates well and he has a sneaky good shot.”
Coyotes in the multiverse
I can not track whether the Coyotes set a record on Sept. 23, but that date may mark the only time in NHL history when a team played three preseason games in three different cities (Melbourne, St. Louis, Wichita) in two different nations (US, Australia) on two different continents (North America, Australia).
“Our staff has done a great job with David Ludwig and John Ferguson and all hands on deck, just organizing and getting extra bodies and doing a lot of planning that went into it,” GM Bill Armstrong said before the Coyotes faced the Kings in the first game of the preseason in Melbourne. “There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of players going in and out and doing a lot of different things. We’ll be a little nervous until we get all of them to the ice and start playing, but it’s a great opportunity on the prospect side to play games.
“Sometimes you go to camp and one of your worries as a player is you’re never gonna get an opportunity to show your stuff. With the amount of games that we have over the next 48 hours, they’re gonna get opportunities to play. Everybody in the organization is going to play. That’s a great thing for the kids and we’ll get a chance to evaluate them. It will be a busy day watching video after this one’s over.
Artyom Duda update
Per sources, the NCAA has re-opened Artyom Duda’s case for appeal after initially rejecting the appeal and Duda’s efforts to play for the University of Maine this season.
The Coyotes would rather not have Duda return to Russia. If Maine does not pan out, the USHL is also a possibility. Youngstown added Duda to its 30-man protected list in July, but the IIHF would also have a say in whether Duda could play there.
Maine begins its season on Oct. 7 against New Hampshire.
Jan Jeník’s future with Coyotes
Jan Jeník, the last holdout on the roster, signed a one-year contract on Thursday for $750,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 at the AHL level, with a guaranteed overall salary of $125,000. Back in July, Jeník turned down a qualifying offer of $813,750, which makes this deal seem like a loss, but his qualifying offer in the AHL was for $70,000 so he made a little bit more money in the place where he is likely to remain this season.
“Jan’s a big physical presence for us that can play,” Armstrong said. “I think the thing that you love about Jan is if you put him on the ice at any point in time he’s not rolling over. He’s got extreme determination and push back — what you need in your organization.
“He’s obviously going to push to see if he can get in the lineup this year and we love that factor. There’s small pieces of his game that he has to tailor; that you get away with in the American League but you don’t get away with in the NHL, from penalties to just smart plays with the puck.”
Tourigny also sees room for work in Jeník’s game.
“Jan is a really feisty, passionate, hard-working player,” he said. “He has really good hands, he’s physical, he can be a pest to play against.
“He has to clean up a few areas of his game. His puck management, his discipline, his defensive play will be things he needs to do to make the next step; to play in the NHL on a regular basis.”
Broadcast agreement in sight for Coyotes?
The Coyotes open the regular season in less than three weeks in New Jersey and fans still do not know how they will watch the games on television. That could change as early as this weekend or early next week, team president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez did not elaborate on the structure of the deal or the outlet with whom the Coyotes are negotiating in the wake of Bally’s financial woes across the nation.
Ice woes in Australia
Fans were in attendance when the Los Angeles Kings took the ice for practice at Rod Laver Arena early on Friday. Both teams were scheduled to skate and sign autographs for fans, but by the time the Coyotes practice rolled around, the ice conditions were poor.
The NHL’s official stance was that the Coyotes practice was canceled at “in order to maintain optimal game conditions” for Saturday’s game. The team jumped on a big and practiced at the O’Brien Icehouse instead. When the team returned to Rod Laver, Tourigny, Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Lawson Crouse went back on the ice to see if the maintenance crews had rectified the issues. They came away satisfied.
“It was 100 times better,” Tourigny said.
The ice showed some signs of wear in Saturday’s game, but it held up enough to complete the game without complaint. The Coyotes and Kings will complete the Global Series here on Sunday.
Top photo courtesy of Arizona Coyotes
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