Coyotes play first game there Dec. 27

Updated: December 15, 2003, 1:34 AM ET
Associated Press

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thousands queued up in a line that wrapped around the parking lot, patiently waiting for their first glimpse inside the Phoenix Coyotes' glitzy new arena.

The open house Sunday elicited expressions of awe at the building's grandeur and optimism that the fan base will grow despite a 17-mile transplant from the America West Arena in downtown Phoenix.

An estimated 12,000 visitors, many wearing jerseys in the team's new brick red, saw the arena during the four-hour showing and gave the players an ovation when they arrived for their first practice in their new home.

The Coyotes finish up in Phoenix against Minnesota on Monday night and then play four games on the road before opening the $220 million, 17,799-seat Glendale Arena on Dec. 27 against Nashville.

The former Winnipeg Jets have played in Phoenix since leaving Canada in July 1996.

With the NBA's Phoenix Suns controlling all parking, concessions and suite revenue in America West, and a balcony blocking the view of one end from 4,000 of the arena's hockey seats, the Coyotes were a losing proposition from the start.

The franchise has dropped an estimated $75 million since Steve Ellman and Jerry Moyes bought it in February 2001. Moyes, a trucking magnate who lives in Glendale, played a big role in persuading the city to spend $180 in tax dollars on the arena, then had to arrange for another $40 million in September to complete it.

"I've been seeing this in my mind for three years," Ellman said. "Today, I'm just seeing it with my eyes open. The fans are really seeing a venue that's one of the best build in professional sports. It should be, because we borrowed from everyone else's."

Left wing Tyson Nash, an offseason addition to the team, said the new venue should give the team a boost.

"No question, the home-ice advantage is huge in the NHL, and if we can establish ourselves in this building, it's going to be huge for us in the long run," Nash said.

After determining the arena couldn't be finished before the season, the Coyotes had the league front-load their schedule with road games, so they would have 28 home games left.

In addition to obstructed-view seats at America West, the Coyotes and visiting teams have had to deal with sub-par ice and stiff dasher boards which coach Bob Francis believes led to injuries last season.

"It's NHL ice," captain Shane Doan said. "It's going to be pretty neat to move in here. This is built for hockey; that was built for basketball. We're a tenant there, and we own this one."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press