The sporting goods store owner has a look of disbelief in his eyes that the Coyotes’ season ticket holder knows is mirrored in his own.
The reason for the disbelief, however, is not the same for him as it is for the shop owner.
The season ticket holder is staring in disbelief at row upon row of hockey sticks, goalie masks, pads, practice sweaters, helmets and other assorted paraphernalia associated with what he considers is the greatest sport in the world.
Literally, he has never seen such an assemblage of hockey gear in one place before. There is just nowhere in Arizona where you can see such a selection - not even in the pro shops in the Valley’s slowly increasing number of hockey-capable ice rinks. It is, he thinks, hockey heaven!
He realizes that he is standing there with his mouth open and begins to feel foolish. After all, who here in Prince Rupert, BC would walk into an everyday sporting goods store and just stand there like some country hick seeing the city for the first time?
The store owner’s disbelief, thankfully, is not that the season ticket holder is standing in front of him like Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. It’s that the season ticket holder has revealed that he is a hockey fan... from Phoenix, Arizona. A city with no naturally-occurring ice and, if you can believe the opinions of many in the Canadian media and fan circles alike, no naturally-occurring hockey fans.
The season ticket holder is here in Prince Rupert on vacation. More specifically, he is fresh off a cruise ship for an all-too-brief three-hour layover. It is his first-ever visit to Canadian soil. He is alone in the sporting goods store because the rest of his party are wandering the streets of Prince Rupert looking at totem poles, sighting eagles, and absorbing the local ambience.
Not him. The first thing he did was head to a mini-mall near the town square in search of a Hockey Canada hat. The incredulous stares from his wife and fellow vacationers rolled off him like a Sean Avery insult.
On his way back to the boat, he found this shop on a side street and wandered into it as if it were the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As he was checking out, he let slip to the store owner that he was from Phoenix and that, yes, he had been a Coyotes’ season ticket holder for five years running. The store owner looked at him as if he had seen a tutu-wearing moose.
Once the shock wore off, the two have a brief, yet illuminating conversation. Naturally, the store owner wants to know what the season ticket holder thought about Jim Balsillie. “Not a fan,” the season ticket holder says in a fit of understatement.
“He’s got a lot of fans here,” the store owner tells him. “There are a lot of people who want another Canadian NHL team.”
“Well, so do I,” the season ticket holder replies. “Just not mine.”
The conversation turns to the city of Phoenix itself. Are there ice rinks there? Yes. How about local hockey? Growing - school programs, city leagues, rec leagues, Junior A level hockey, even a nationally-regarded development program sponsored by P.F. Chang’s.
“You seem to know your stuff,” the store owner says approvingly. “How long have you been a hockey fan?”
“Since the team moved to Glendale,” the season ticket holder says. “About six years now.”
“Yes. You might say I’m Gary Bettman’s proof-of-concept about the sport gaining new fans by playing in the Sunbelt.”
The store owner laughs a little. “Well, you’re number one. When will the Coyotes get number two?”
The season ticket holder stews a bit. By now he’s so tired of hearing the same joke over and over - “I’ve met the Coyotes’ fans, and they are two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet!” - that he feels like punching the guy. But, like he always does, he counts to five in his head, smiles, and pays for the Hockey Canada hat and t-shirt.
As he walks out of the store, the owner calls after him. “Don’t let the bankruptcy stuff sour you on the game,” he says.
The season ticket holder pauses. Then he grins at the store owner and says, “Not even Jim Balsillie can keep me away from the greatest sport in the world.”