GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — After being introduced at center ice, the new owners of the Phoenix Coyotes made their way down a red carpet in front of the team bench.
Instead of just walking past and down into the tunnel, they pumped their fists at the players, shouted words of encouragement and slapped hands with anyone who was near the boards.
The enthusiasm carried over onto the ice, sparking a rousing start to a new era in the desert.
Radim Vrbata scored three goals, Mike Smith stopped 23 shots, and the Coyotes opened their first season with an owner in four years by routing the New York Rangers 4-1 on Thursday night.
"It was real exciting for us to see how excited those owners were on the ice," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "When they walked back in front of the bench, they looked like they were living their dream, just like we're living our dream with the jobs we have."
With NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance, the Coyotes introduced each member of the team and coaching staff before the game, then had the group of owners from IceArizona take their turn at center ice.
Charged by the raucous cheers for the owners and the playoff-like atmosphere inside Jobing.com Arena, the Coyotes jumped on New York early, answered the Rangers' lone goal quickly, and ran away behind Vrbata's second straight hat trick — dating to last season — and fifth career.
Kyle Chipchura also scored, Martin Hanzal had two assists, and Smith made some tough saves on a pair of early penalty kills, including one from his stomach on a shot by Benoit Pouliot.
"That's what everyone's been waiting for the past four years," Vrbata said. "The fans liked it, we liked it on the bench and took advantage of it early on. That's a good thing."
The Rangers withstood Phoenix's initial surge in their first game under new coach Alain Vigneault, tying the game on Marc Staal's power-play goal early in the second period.
New York was no match for the Coyotes the rest of the way, missing on a couple of scoring chances while giving Phoenix too many, particularly during and after a power play in the second period that led to Vrbata's first goal.
"If we get out of that period, keep the momentum after that power-play goal, it might be a different game," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "Little details that we can control, and we got ourselves in trouble with those penalties."
This opening night in the desert was one many didn't think would ever come.
Ownerless since 2009, the Coyotes spent the previous four years playing under the shadow of an uncertain future.
That changed over the summer, when George Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and the rest of IceArizona followed through where so many suitors had failed, purchasing the franchise from the NHL for $170 million.
The deal revitalized the fan base and immediately triggered a change of fortune, giving Phoenix the financial footing to compete with the NHL's other 29 teams.