Anyone who says hockey can't thrive in the desert doesn't remember the Arizona Coyotes' first years in the Valley.
Sometimes it feels like no one besides me (and Shane Doan) remembers those days at the old America West Arena in Phoenix, where the Suns still play. Regular-season games routinely sold out -- and to this day, the loudest I've ever heard an arena was during a Coyotes "Whiteout" playoff game at AWA.
The Coyotes lost a large chunk of that fan support when they moved to Glendale during the 2003-04 season -- and some of that support has never returned.
Forming a joint arena in Tempe with the surging Arizona State Sun Devils hockey team would flip that script.
On the Coyotes' end, a move to the East Valley would instantly increase fan attendance, which is the third-lowest in the NHL this season. For many fans, it's not the ticket prices (which are absurdly low) or even the level of play that deters them from attending Yotes games. Rather, it's the inconvenience of traveling to Glendale, which is an especially long trip for residents of Tempe, Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert and Queen Creek (where I live).
Affordable tickets or not: It's not fun to spend a weeknight traveling a distance the equivalent of Tucson to watch a hockey game.
On the collegiate side, the ability to play in a state-of-the-art arena is exactly what ASU's growing hockey program needs in order to sustain momentum.
ASU goalie-turned-coach Greg Powers has worked wonders during his eight years at the Sun Devil helm, leading a once-average ACHA club team to a national championship in 2014, and following that up with a leap to the NCAA ranks this season. The Devils' first season at the top-tier level has not been easy, but those kinds of growing pains were to be expected.
But consider this: Powers already has a fantastic pitch for would-be Sun Devil recruits who live in the northern U.S. and Canada (a program on the rise, beautiful weather, a great education in a booming job market, etc.). Imagine being able to use the you get to play your home games in an NHL arena card on top of that.
The ability to play in a state-of-the-art arena is exactly what ASU's growing hockey program needs in order to sustain momentum.
Yes, arena construction would take some time -- three years, according to ESPN. But the promise of being able to play in an NHL arena as a junior or senior should be enticing enough.
The desire to watch ASU hockey is there, but the space to watch the team is not. The Sun Devils currently play their home games in the undersized Oceanside Ice Arena -- but they had an average of over 5,000 fans in attendance for their three games at the Coyotes' Gila River Arena this season, with one game to go.
Imagine the number of fans, especially students, who would show up if the school played in an NHL arena, and that arena happened to be within walking distance.
Location is the common denominator that makes a joint Tempe arena so attractive. It would be much more accessible for a majority of Valley residents, many of whom happen to be Coyotes fans and ASU alums.
Let's hope this deal gets done as soon as possible. Hockey in the desert, both professionally and collegiately, would catch fire as a result.