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It started as a joke last fall. Every Coyotes fan has heard it.
Did you hear the latest about the Yotes? They’re playing in a 5,000-seat college rink. At least it can hold all of their fans.
The joke was recycled so much over the following months by unwittingly unimaginative people that it lost all effect and humor.
Then word got out from visiting players that the ice surface, the dressing room in the annex, and the boards at Mullett Arena were among the best and fastest in the NHL.
Word got out that the atmosphere was so cool that visiting teams started taking corporate sponsors on trips to Arizona to experience Mullett’s unique vibe.
And then the strangest thing of all occurred. The Coyotes started winning at Mullett; winning a lot, despite a roster that numerous national analysts labeled as one of the worst constructed teams in the salary cap-era. Even after GM Bill Armstrong shipped five key veterans out at the March 3 trade deadline, the Coyotes took one game to turn the page before rattling off this current five-game point streak that includes three straight wins at home.
Mullett Arena has become a genuine home-ice advantage.
“Coming in here at the start was a little different and we didn’t really know what to expect with the locker room, the fans and things like that,” forward Clayton Keller said Sunday after the Coyotes rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in overtime. “I think we have just done a good job of playing hard at home. It’s something that we just want to carry down the stretch.”
Minnesota was 10-0-2 in its previous 12 games and had been 25-0-1 when leading after two periods, but the Coyotes did to the Wild what they have done to a litany of elite teams. Here’s a sampling of Mullett Arena victims.
|Date||Opponent||Current record||Current standing|
|Nov. 1||Florida||33-27-7||4th, Atlantic|
|Dec. 9||Boston||50-10-5||1st, NHL|
|Dec. 16||NY Islanders||34-26-8||2nd EC wild card|
|Dec. 23||Los Angeles||38-20-9||2nd, Pacific|
|Dec. 27||Colorado||36-22-6||2nd WC wild card|
|Dec. 29||Toronto||40-17-8||2nd, Atlantic|
|Jan. 22||Vegas||41-20-6||1st, Pacific|
|Feb. 6||Minnesota||38-21-8||2nd, Central|
|Feb. 15||Tampa Bay||39-22-6||3rd, Atlantic|
|March 12||Minnesota||38-21-8||2nd, Central|
There are multiple theories about why the Coyotes have had success at Mullett. Some players have suggested that the tight confines create a significant visual and mental adjustment for visiting teams that are coming from the NHL’s otherwise cavernous arenas.
“It feels smaller, for sure,” forward Brett Ritchie said after his Coyotes debut on March 9 in a 4-1 win against Nashville. “Not as high of a ceiling. I don’t know what it is. It feels just scrunched in, almost like a junior rink but I think it’s definitely an advantage for the home team.”
Others have suggested that the same effect that sometimes plays out in Las Vegas (the so-called Vegas Flu) is taking place in Arizona. Call it The Old Town Overdose. Now that teams are able to stay near nightlife-rich Scottsdale and Tempe, instead of largely barren Glendale, players are taking advantage of that fact and may not be as focused or physically prepared for the games. We’re not sure about this one, but Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn would be good starting points for research.
Here’s another theory that should probably get more attention. Maybe the Coyotes are just that good at Mullett. After rallying against the Wild, Arizona is 17-11-3 at home. To put that in perspective, Arizona has more home wins than nine Western Conference teams and is tied with the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars.
And because they played 20 of their first 24 games this season on the road, the Coyotes still have more home games remaining (10) than any Western Conference team except the Nashville Predators.
The most home wins that the Coyotes have ever recorded in a season is 29, during that improbable 2009-10 season. This season’s team won’t achieve that mark, but based on its current trajectory, it is on pace to win 22 games (22.48 to be exact). That would tie it with three other teams (including the 2011-12 Western Conference finalist) for the fifth-most home wins in Coyotes history.
With one additional win, this season’s team could move into a three-way tie for the third-most wins in Arizona franchise history.
These are not the results of which tanking is made. “I wouldn’t say we had this kind of home-ice advantage last year,” forward Travis Boyd said after a 6-2 win against the St. Louis Blues on March 7. “Everybody early in the season was making jokes and everything about it, but I think at the end of the day, it’s a tough place to come in and play. I think our record speaks to that.
“We’re excited that we’re home for a lot of this stretch run. Hopefully, we can continue to play like we did tonight. Why not get on a streak? Let’s screw some teams up that are trying to make the playoffs.”
Top photo of Mullett Arena fans via Getty Images
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