Vancouver natives Justin and Cindy Harrison are optimistic that the new owners of the professional hockey team that they and their four children adopted will be able to accomplish in the Valley what their family has in its north Phoenix neighborhood.
“We have a hockey net like most Canadians would. Most of the kids who came over to our house had never played hockey – street hockey or anything. Now, all of them have hockey sticks,” said Justin, 38, who moved his family to Phoenix from Calgary for his job in 2008.
“Kids are coming out of the woodwork in our neighborhood. We’ll have a game with 15 kids. We’re kind of sucking everyone into it.”
Justin and Cindy grew up as Vancouver Canucks fans, but upon their arrival in Arizona, they snatched up season tickets for the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that has been toward the bottom of the NHL in fan attendance for years.
Since the 2008-09 season, the Harrisons have made the half-hour trip from their home to Glendale’s Jobing.com Arena to cheer on the Coyotes from Section 102, Row M.
“It’s really hard to not convert when you watch them play,” Justin said. “In every game, they usually outwork the opponent, and you respect their style of hockey.”
Fellow Canadians Anthony LeBlanc and George Gosbee purchased the Coyotes from the NHL in August – nearly five years after their previous owner filed for bankruptcy – ending years of speculation that they were headed out of Arizona.
The Harrisons are convinced that their team is in good hands, both from an on-ice and marketing perspective.
“We’re optimistic. They understand hockey first and foremost,” Justin said. “I think they will do a much better job of just marketing and getting their name into the media.”
The Harrison family splits their pair of season tickets evenly among the six of them – five games for each child with each parent. “It’s one-on-one time with our kids,” Justin said.
Cindy, 37, said native Arizonans are missing out on the excitement of professional hockey in the desert, not to mention its affordability. The average Coyotes ticket costs just over $31 – about 20% less than the average Arizona Cardinals ticket, and 30% less than the average Phoenix Suns ticket.
“Nothing beats live hockey – going there and actually watching a game rather than watching on TV,” she said. “There’s no way we’d be able to ever afford (season tickets) in Vancouver. We thought, ‘This is awesome. This is a great opportunity to go to hockey games and expose our kids to it.’”
According to USA Hockey, Arizona saw a 12.7 percent increase in youth hockey participation from 2011 to 2012 – the sixth-biggest jump in the nation – and a 40 percent increase among kids aged eight and under, including Justin and Cindy’s twin boys, Justus and Easton, who have played in the DYHA Firebirds’ travel hockey program for four years.
Justin said his family’s interest in hockey and commitment to the Coyotes is due in part to a team that is one of the most fan-friendly in the NHL.
“The team is so accessible. We’ve met so many of the players,” he said. “We see a lot of them around town where their kids play hockey.”
With this kind of commitment to the Valley, along with the marketing efforts of the Coyotes’ new owners, the Harrisons believe they’ll soon see an increase in hockey fans in Section 102, just as they have on their own block.
“We’re in really good shape because we’ve got some really good hockey people in our organization,” Justin said.
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