TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes lost their home opener at Mullett Arena on Friday night, the NHL team’s first game in its temporary home at Arizona State University.
Blake Wheeler’s goal at 32 seconds of overtime gave the Winnipeg Jets a 3-2 victory over the Coyotes in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd of 4,600 fans — considered a sellout in the NCAA-sized rink.
“Tough way to end it, right? I felt we deserved better,” Coyotes forward Christian Fischer, who had two goals in the loss, said. “But I thought energy of the crowd was great. Something that we’ve missed as players, especially guys that have been here for a while. It’s loud, and the fans are cheering for us. That’s all we really care about. It’s a cool little rink.”
The Coyotes needed a new home after Glendale ended the team’s 18-year run in the city, opting not to renew their lease at what’s now known as Desert Diamond Arena. The Coyotes have a contract to play the next three seasons and potentially a fourth at ASU while they hope a new arena in Tempe is approved and constructed. A vote from the city council will come Nov. 29.
They’ll share Mullett Arena with the Sun Devils men’s hockey team, with both of their logos painted at center ice. Retired Arizona star Shane Doan and his son Josh Doan, a Coyotes draft pick who plays for ASU, dropped the ceremonial first puck together.
“There was an energy out there,” Arizona coach Andre Tourigny said. “Good to be in front of our fans, and the crowd was into it. We were looking to see what kind of atmosphere it would be, and it was really cool out there. You could feed from that energy of the fans.”
The attendance was capped at 4,600, with some seats reserved for visiting media and the television broadcasts. That crowd included a packed ASU student section, where fans dressed as bananas and characters from the Netflix series “Squid Game” helped generate the majority of the game’s chants. A drumline added collegiate flavor. Every fan in the building was given a Coyotes T-shirt and a commemorative mullet, with blonde hair cascading down from a headband that read “Go Coyotes Go!”
Arizona played its entire preseason and the first six games of the regular season on the road as construction on Mullett Arena, which is named for a family whose financially backing helped the Sun Devils reach NCAA Division I status in 2014, was completed.
A 15,000 gross-square-foot annex is still being built next to the arena, which will house NHL-quality locker rooms and training facilities for both the Coyotes and away teams. But that annex won’t be ready until December, so Arizona’s first four visiting opponents must use a temporary locker room built atop a community rink housed next to Mullett Arena.
“It’s different. The ground is cold from being on top of the ice. When you take your shoes off, it’s a little chilly on the feet,” Winnipeg rookie Cole Perfetti said. “But we knew it was temporary. We knew what we were coming into. It’s unique. It’s pretty cool to be the first team to ever be a part of this. It’s weird. But it’s cool.”
The Coyotes play three more home games and then hit the road for 14 straight road games as the annex is completed.
Fischer scored the first two goals at Mullett Arena. Fischer’s second goal came at 15:28 of the first period but was answered by Perfetti’s third goal of the season just 26 seconds later.
The Coyotes led until 8:34 of the third period, when Winnipeg’s red-hot Mark Scheifele scored his sixth goal on the season to tie the score.
Arizona goalie Karel Vejmelka was outstanding in the loss, making 32 saves that included 12 in the third period to the delight of the mullet-wearing crowd.
“It’s going to be our home for three years here, maybe even four,” Fischer said. “I think the more we embrace it, [it’ll be] a tough place to play. We can use this to our advantage. You hear all the stuff that teams probably don’t want to come here [because] of the small environment. Well, that’d be great for us. Let’s use that as motivation to make it damn hard to play here.”