Hockey Costs

Arizona Coyotes alumni team committed to helping grow hockey in the state

Parker Dunn

Cronkite News

After retiring from the NHL, Wayne McBean moved to Phoenix and started skating once a week with other former professionals in order to stay in shape and stay connected to the sport he loves.

McBean couldn’t help but notice that the rink where he was skating was full of young players, a sign of the sport’s tremendous growth in the Valley. He and another former NHL player, Greg Adams, had an idea: what if they quenched their thirst for competition by organizing charity games, the proceeds helping to finance promising players and programs?

It seemed like a win-win proposition, regardless of the final exhibit scores. Thirteen years after hosting their first charity event, their fundraising efforts and love of competition are still going strong. Recently, the past eclipsed the future when a team of former Arizona Coyotes, which included McBean and Adams, won 8-7 against the men’s team of the University of Arizona.

The Wildcats benefited a lot from this loss. They enjoyed the thrill of competing against their childhood heroes, took a crash course in advanced hockey, and generated $5,000 for their hockey program.

“I mean, that’s it, it’s no secret that we have a lot of challenges here as a program sharing this building with an AHL team,” the University of Ottawa coach said. Arizona, Chad Berman. “Everything they do is awesome. Not only to honor NHL players of the past, but to support current hockey groups in Arizona.”

The exhibition game took place on Arizona ice at the Tucson Convention Center, and the money raised will help defray the considerable costs of a Wildcats club program that aspires one day to join Arizona State in as an NCAA Division I participant.

Hockey is one of the most expensive sports to play at any level. Between equipment and travel, the costs add up quickly. The money the team received from the game is important for a program that seeks to continue to improve. Few opponents are available in the West, so the Wildcats have to travel to places like Minot State in North Dakota to find competition, which doesn’t come cheap.

“It’s expensive to run a program like this and compete at a high level,” Berman said. “To face the best teams, you have to travel.”

Then there is the cost of ice time, equipment and meals for the players. “It takes a long time, so it’s critical that the program settles down to the level it is,” Berman said.

As beneficial as the money raised was the opportunity for the Wildcats to play and learn from legends of the game who played at the highest level. It’s not often that members of a club team can share the ice with former NHL players.

“There’s so much they can learn (from them) just from their hockey IQ and how they play in and out of the puck,” Berman said. “All the guys in this room have always dreamed of playing in the NHL, so we’re just jealous and trying to watch and figure it out. It’s a weird game because it’s so casual yet competitive. It’s a weird balance, but in the end, it’s really a celebration of hockey and that’s what makes it so fun.

Former professionals – whatever their age – enjoy the games as much as their young opponents.

“As a former NHL player, you’ve been on the ice your whole life, so as soon as you retire, you might retire from the NHL, but you’ll never retire from hockey,” said McBean, who added, “We love being on the ice.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the alumni team is the fact that they have never lost a match in 13 years. Although there have been close calls, including against the University of Arizona, the ex-pros continue to rely on their years of experience to find a way to prevail in the end.

“It was awesome,” former American Hockey League player Zac Larraza said. “It was so much fun being with these guys. I played in Tucson my senior year for the Road Runners, so it’s nice to come back here and see some familiar faces from when I played here.

Every game played by the alumni team generates revenue that benefits various hockey programs in the state. The team plays a big role in growing the game and entertaining the fans at the same time.

“Over the past 13 years, we’ve donated $1.3 million to hockey, from Flagstaff to Tucson,” McBean said.

The impact of the alumni team extends beyond state lines. The players traveled to New Mexico to teach kids about hockey and create a new generation of fans who will fall in love with the game the same way they all did when they were younger.

“We’ve had 805 kids go through the program (in New Mexico),” McBean said. They get free gear, from skates to helmet, poles, gear bags, everything. The alumni go on the ice for seven different ice periods with the 805 kids and we teach them from the start how to get up, skate, pass and throw the puck.

This expansion beyond the state of Arizona makes a lot of sense given the recent growth of hockey in the Valley. More and more parents are encouraging their children to play sports at a young age, which is increasing the popularity of the sport.

McBean said: “When you see minor hockey levels increase in the number of five, six, seven and eight year old kids playing the game, you are going to see your fan base at the NHL level increase as well. . because if dad is sitting at home and his seven-year-old grandson wants to go to a hockey game, he’s going to drive to the hockey game.

In Tucson, in particular, this has been the case. More kids than ever are picking up a hockey stick, putting on pads and helmets, and lacing up skates. The limited number of rinks in the area was becoming a concern. But fortunately, the University of Arizona is currently working on the construction of a new hockey arena for the team which will open to the public in 2024.

“The new arena couldn’t come at a better time,” Berman said. “We have over 900 kids here playing hockey and there are more kids than there is ice available, so there is more opportunity for growth here. I have met far too many families who move to Phoenix simply because they are already commuting six or seven days a week so that their child can play hockey. It breaks my heart because I want to see the talent stay in Tucson.

Arizona’s homegrown talent includes NHL players Sean Couturier and Austin Matthews. Larraza is another pro from Arizona.

“I was born and raised in Scottsdale and played for the Jr. Coyotes, so it’s great to give back to players who are in the state,” Larraza said. “It’s a great charity and I’m happy to come here and play for all these guys and girls.”

The future of hockey continues to get better every day with support groups like the alumni team and various universities across the state giving kids the chance to play the game they love. McBean notices parallels between Phoenix and Los Angeles.

“In 1988, I was [the] 4th draft pick of the LA Kings,” said McBean, who recalled the team’s fanbase then being small but loyal. That all changed in August 1988 when Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s Michael Jordan, was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings.

“Wayne Gretzky came down and everything changed the whole world,” McBean said. “Hockey has changed in the United States and in your non-traditional hockey markets. When I came to Phoenix 13 years ago, there was a small minor hockey base. Now it’s starting to grow. You have a huge hockey base here in Tucson, all the way to Flagstaff.

With help from the Arizona Coyotes alumni team, the University of Arizona, other universities across the state, and all junior hockey programs, the game continues to evolve in the right way.

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