Two days before Christmas, Phoenix sports fans will be treated to a nostalgic holiday gift. Recent fans only know the red sweaters, the home in Glendale, and associate the moniker Captain Coyote with Shane Doan. Older Valley puck heads likely associate the title of Captain Coyote with a player nicknamed 'Walt' who wore a kachina inspired #7 jersey, played at a place called America West Arena, and mentored a young Doan. Like watching an old familiar holiday movie, Friday's ceremony commemorating former Phoenix Coyote Keith Tkachuk's entrance into the team's Ring of Honor will likely bring tears of joy to many in Coyotes Nation.
The rise of the position known as the 'power forward' coincided with Tkachuk's arrival into the National Hockey League (NHL). The league was changing from the offensive flair of Wayne Gretzky's Oilers and Mario Lemieux's Penguins to a style of play filled with the trap and other defensive strategies which slowed down the pace. In order to combat all of the obstruction and holding going on, teams needed forwards who were strong enough to fight through all the clutching and grabbing. Walt's size and ability to both absorb and deal out physical contact were perfect for this style of play. Add in a skilled set of hands and you had the prototypical power forward. Few were ever better at camping out in front of a goalie and causing havoc; his 'office' was right outside (and sometimes inside) the crease.
Tkachuk still owns the franchise record for most goals in a season by a left wing with the 52 he scored in the Yotes inaugural campaign in the Valley. Not only was it a franchise record, but the number also topped the NHL that season making him the first American born player to lead the NHL in goals. Even more impressive is that 41 of those goals came at even strength. He also still owns the franchise record for career penalty minutes (1508) and shares the record for most 20+ goal seasons (9) with Dale Hawerchuk and Shane Doan.
The Boston area native was the Coyotes' captain from their arrival in the Valley in 1996 until he was traded at the 2001 trade deadline to St. Louis. Tkachuk struggled through injuries and playoff disappointments during his time in the Valley. Both issues along with the team's financial struggles at the time led to his being dealt to the St. Louis Blues. Many thought Tkachuk was to blame for the team never reaching the second round of the playoffs. More than 10 years later the Coyotes still have not made it out of the first round of the playoffs, and the hole left by Walt's trade has yet to be filled.