GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Phoenix Coyotes made hockey cool in the desert again with their run to the Western Conference finals last season, invigorating a blase fan base with a blue-collar mentality and unprecedented playoff push.
The emergence of Greg Jamison as a potential owner who could end three years of instability fueled the momentum as the Coyotes headed into the offseason.
The NHL lockout brought everything to a halt.
With months of get-nowhere negotiations, all the cachet the Coyotes had built up was gone.
Hockey again had become an afterthought in the Valley of the Sun, the memory of an exciting time faded behind frustration and a move-onto-the-next-thing mentality.
Now that it's game on again, the Coyotes are hoping to find a way to get their mojo back in what figures to be a fast-and-furious shortened season.
"The games are going to be exciting and I think that's where we'll get our fans back," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said Thursday from Jobing.com Arena.
The NHL lockout was a long, contentious process, 113 days of hopes for a season lifting and crashing too many times to count.
The impasse finally ended in the wee hours of Sunday, when a 16-hour bargaining session resulted in a 10-year agreement that saved the season and should finally give the sport some stability.
The Coyotes hope the labor strife doesn't chip away at the foundation they built last season.
Long an afterthought in the crowded Phoenix sports market, the Coyotes ignited their fan base — and added to it — with their playoff push.
Playing a gritty style of hockey with a team-first approach, the desert dogs got their bandwagon rolling downhill with a fantastic February — 23 of a possible 24 points — that led to the franchise's first division title in 33 years of NHL existence.
The Coyotes kept on the throttle by beating Chicago to reach the playoffs' second round for the first time in 25 years, then bumped off Nashville to reach the conference finals for the first time ever.
The deeper Phoenix went, the more crowded the bandwagon became, with billboards popping up all over town, fans who normally had other things to do turning their attention toward Glendale, howling heard 'round the Valley.
The Coyotes also found a suitor who could finally end their drawn-out ownership saga.
During Phoenix's playoff series with the Predators, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman showed up at Jobing.com Arena to announce the league had a tentative agreement to sell the team to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.
The deal was far from done and the team had gone through several new-owner false starts, but it was strong enough to provide hope for a franchise that hadn't had much — at least off the ice — since previous owner Jerry Moyes took it into bankruptcy protection in 2009.