Phoenix Coyotes fans were delighted to see that the Desert Dogs didn't wait until the regular season to mix it up with other NHL teams. But is it possible that Shane Doan and Dustin Brown could drop the gloves in the crisp air under clear skies?
The Washington Capitals recently announced that they would be hosting the 2015 Winter Classic. At the same time, it was reported that the NHL will continue with its plan to play four to five outdoor games per season. With the Winter Classic and the Heritage Classic making up two of those games, there are three up for grabs. Add to the mix the fact that Los Angeles will be hosting its own outdoor game on January 25th, 2014, it doesn't seem too far-fetched that the outdoor series might one day make an appearance in the Valley.
The only question would be: where should the game be played? Realistically, there are three possible venues in the greater Phoenix area that would be capable of hosting an outdoor NHL game. Each site has a variety of advantages and disadvantages which the League would have to consider when deciding if they want to hold an outdoor game in Arizona.
The Possible Venues
Sun Devil Stadium - Tempe, AZ
The oldest of the three possible sites, Sun Devil Stadium is also the largest of the three, with a pre-expansion capacity of just over 71,000. Its proximity to the Mill Avenue District and Arizona State University would also be appealing in selling the event to casual or non-hockey fans looking for a novelty attraction. Plus, the stadium is actually outdoors, which would, aesthetically speaking, be exactly what the NHL is looking for.
But there are numerous problems with using the home of the ASU Sun Devils. Plans are in the works to renovate the football stadium, and though a timeline for those renovations to begin has not yet been set, the league could find itself in a bind if the plans were finalized after the NHL already put the date on the calendar.
Additionally, the temperature of the ice at game time is a consideration. While Phoenix is, on average, about the same temperature as Los Angeles in late January, it isn't unheard of for the temperature to spike on certain days. Holding the game at Sun Devil Stadium leaves the ice crew completely at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Chase Field - Phoenix, AZ
The home of Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks is right in central Phoenix. In many ways, playing at Chase Field would be a compromise between several factors. With the baseball season long over, the league would have a fair amount of flexibility in determining when the game would be played. Chase Field also features a retractable roof that reveals the entire building to the sky, which would allow the ice crew to better manage the on-ice conditions. Though Phoenix is primarily thought of as a suburban sprawl, the Downtown area around the Stadium District has grown significantly in recent years; meaning there are plenty of entertainment options for fans before and after the game.
Of course, baseball sight lines are hardly ideal for a roughly rectangular hockey rink. The layout of Chase Field is arguably even less conducive to hockey than Fenway Park or Wrigley Field were, because the outfield is large and the upper deck is quite a ways away from field level. Watching a baseball travel across the field is hard enough, never mind a tiny black puck.
University of Phoenix Stadium - Glendale, AZ
In many ways, the neighbor to Jobing.com Arena makes the most sense. U of P is managed by Global Spectrum, the same group that partnered with Renaissance Sports & Entertainment to manage non-hockey events at Jobing.com Arena. Hosting the game at U of P would be in their best interest, plus would be a nice gesture to the City of Glendale for the faith they put in the Coyotes. Its proximity to the Westgate City Center would make events, similar to the NHL Fan Fest, very easy to organize and hold. After having hosted a Super Bowl and several BCS Championship games, the venue is commonly used for A-List sporting events.
Unfortunately, it's not much of an outdoor venue. There is a retractable roof, but it makes University of Phoenix Stadium an outdoor venue in the same way that having a moon roof on a car makes that car a convertible. Then again, considering the NHL will be playing an "outdoor" game here, that probably isn't a huge issue.
A bigger problem could be access to the site. Both Sun Devil Stadium and Chase Field have stops on the Valley's Light Rail directly adjacent to the stadiums. Though the rarity of an outdoor hockey game in Arizona would likely entice many casual fans to make the journey, there are still key demographics (students and young families in particular) who may not be able to drive out to Glendale. Since those are the people the Coyotes are trying to turn into long-term fans, the team and the league could be missing out.
Considering all the political factors, it seems the University of Phoenix Stadium will be the likely site of a Stadium Series game played in Arizona. This could even be beneficial to the Coyotes, because those who don't attend Coyotes games because of the distance to Jobing.com Arena, may come to realize that the drive isn't all that bad. The novelty of the event would certainly generate buzz in the Valley, and if the league schedules a suitable opponent (say, the Los Angeles Kings), an outdoor game in the Valley could be a smashing success.