TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Mullett will have a party in the front and the back Friday night.
By far the NHL’s smallest venue, Mullett Arena takes its first spin in the national spotlight when the Arizona Coyotes host the Winnipeg Jets.
It should be a rockin’ — howlin’? — good time.
“It’s a new chapter of hockey in Arizona and in Tempe,” Coyotes forward Clayton Keller said. “I think everyone is excited and there will be a lot more eyes and a lot of people talking more about hockey.”
The Coyotes were put in a bind when, in the latest drama with the city of Glendale, they were told their annual lease for Gila River Arena would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.
The franchise is negotiating with the city of Tempe to build a new arena and entertainment district, with a vote by the City Council expected on Nov. 29.
Until then, it’s Mullett time.
To fill the gap until it gets a permanent home, Arizona worked out a deal to play the next three seasons at Mullett Arena, the sparkling new home of Arizona State hockey.
The 5,000-seat venue near Sun Devil Stadium is state-of-the-art and a perfect fit for college hockey. For NHL games, it’s going to be like watching the Rolling Stones at an upscale city theater.
“It’s intimate and you will have an unprecedented experience,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said. “And it’s going to be loud.”
Improvising while waiting for a new arena is not unprecedented.
The Tampa Bay Lightning played their first season in a venue that proved to be too small for an NHL team, so they moved in 1993 to the Florida Suncoast Dome, built for the expected arrival of a Major League Baseball team. The Lightning renamed it Thunderdome and played three seasons there until the Amalie Arena was finished.
While the Ottawa Senators were waiting for their new arena to be completed, they played at the Ottawa Civic Center, which originally had roughly 15 rows of seats on one side before it was renovated.
The NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers also had a unique venue after moving north from San Diego, playing three seasons at the 30,000-seat home of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy.
Now the Coyotes are doing it, becoming the first NHL team to share an arena with an NCAA team since 1928.
“It’s good because they’ll be able to see how fast the game truly is,” Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse said. “To have all these seats in the lower bowl, they’ll pick up on how quick we have to make decisions.”
It took a lot of extra work to make Mullett Arena NHL ready.
Plans and permits had already been approved when the deal with the Coyotes was reached, so numerous adjustments had to be made.
New technology was added for the NHL’s replays, stats and video on the benches. Areas inside the arena were cleared out to accommodate more cameras for NHL games and the press box was adjusted for the various media members and NHL officials.
NHL-quality locker rooms also had to be added, so an annex was built adjacent to the arena. The annex won’t be ready until the Coyotes return from a 14-game road trip in December, so the public-use sheet of ice connected to the arena will be covered with flooring and set up as a visiting locker room.
“There was a lot of chirping, but this is basically an NHL arena, just smaller,” said Peter Luukko, executive chairman of Oak View Group, which manages Mullett Arena. “It’s not a long-term solution, but it’s perfect short term.”
The Coyotes hope they’re close to that permanent solution.
Until then, they’ll be in The Mullett.
Party on — front and back.
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