Friday night had a "special event" feel in the NHL.
Similar to the Seattle Kraken home opener last season, we got a building debut in the NHL that took center stage. This time, it was the Arizona Coyotes and Mullett Arena, the home of the Arizona State Sun Devils men's hockey team. The teams will share the space for the next three seasons until the Yotes establish their new home, hopefully in Tempe.
Arizona (in a roundabout fitting way) hosted the Winnipeg Jets in their first game in the new digs. Some were concerned about the lower capacity (4,700 fans) and what that would look like in the biggest hockey league in the world. Others were curious about the annex, the adjacent building being constructed by the Coyotes (that ASU will keep once the Yotes say goodbye) that takes "The Mullett" up to NHL code, complete with NHL-caliber dressing rooms, medical facilities and all the trimmings. For now, the visiting Jets were in a temporary dressing room above a practice rink.
The ESPN+ broadcast was fun. John Buccigross was on the call, sparing no detail on the college hockey connections throughout the game. The great Barry Melrose was beside me in studio. Pierre-Luc Dubois told Leah Hextall after the game that this was the best ice in the NHL. Former Coyote Brian Boucher noted the liveliness of the boards as the puck ricocheted off the dasher on a dump-in.
However, it wasn't quite perfect, as we'll explore in the first item of this week's list of what to watch around the NHL this week.
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The Mullett Arena student section needs to be much wilder
Coming in, I had high hopes for this section of roughly 400 seats, with affordable pricing (tickets as low as $25) for students. There was some fun, no doubt: the mullet headbands that all fans received were used in full force in this corner of the rink; there were drums, a dancing troupe, and a few people dressed up as pineapples or penguins, and even some Jets fans (maybe they didn't realize their seats would be in the student section). But after talking with people in attendance and watching on the broadcast, the vibe and the energy left me wanting more.
To me, this section should become the heartbeat of the home crowd at every single game -- the youthful, energetic, playfully rambunctious collective that sets the tone and keeps spirits high no matter what is happening on the ice. This is a unique situation; there isn't a "reduced pricing" area this close to the ice in any other arena in the NHL. This section will be front and center.
In other words, the student section will be unavoidable on game broadcasts, and that's a good thing. Take risks. Be bold. Get into the spirit. Keep dressing up, be silly and fun. This is truly your chance to make something great. Create traditions that other teams and fans will either be jealous of or copy for themselves. Take cues from crowds in other college sports -- look at how lively and unique college football crowds are. From the introductions to the final whistle, the place is jumping. The potential is there to be a destination part of the game.
The announcers will be thankful to have something to talk about in their back pocket, the pictures will be fun for people at home, the social media crews (both home, away and league) will eat up the content. There are a lot of wins to be had here. Above all, be loud. Make it a place that the Coyotes players look forward to playing in and visiting players dread. Have lighthearted, respectful fun with the opposing team's fans. Make people forget about "4,700" and instead give them a decibel level to talk about. To those in the student section, whether you go for one game or are there all year: seize the moment. A scenario like this may never come along in the NHL again.
The Yotes have two more home games this week before heading back on the road: against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET) and Dallas Stars (Thursday, 10 p.m. ET), with both games available on NHL Power Play on ESPN+ (local blackout rules apply).
Hughes vs. Hughes
The Canucks are on a two-game winning streak -- including a 5-1 trouncing of the Penguins on Friday -- and after a few days off, they face another challenged against a team that has had a rocket ship strapped to its back as of late.
Speaking of the Devils, they are on a three-game winning streak that includes two wins by four or more goals and one shutout of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
And oh yeah, two of the top players on each of these teams are brothers, as Devils center Jack Hughes will square off with defenseman Quinn Hughes of the Canucks. The game is available on ESPN+ starting at 10 p.m.
Original Six matchup on ESPN+
In their 98 years of existence, the Boston Bruins have never had a better start to the season. Whether it's a new bench boss in Jim Montgomery, the return of David Krejci to the team (he's third in scoring so far), the surging start of Linus Ullmark (.945 save percentage), David Pastrnak battling Connor McDavid in the scoring race ... everything is clicking for the B's. They are the best team in the NHL right now.
Heading into the season, most observers would have thought the Rangers would have had the upper hand between these two clubs, especially coming off their Eastern Conference finals appearance last season. The Rangers still have a goaltender in Igor Shesterkin who is firmly in the conversation as best in the world (despite a somewhat surprising .915 save percentage to start the season) and balanced scoring on multiple lines.
These two will square off at Madison Square Garden Thursday night (7:30 p.m.), exclusively broadcast on ESPN+ and Hulu.
NHL Global Series continues
On Friday and Saturday, the Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets will face off at Nokia Arena in Tampere, Finland, for the next two games in the league's Global Series.
The more games we see globally, the better. Fans outside of North America don't often get live NHL action, and they make the atmosphere fun. The way the crowd chants and behaves at the game -- especially in Europe -- is different than the North American experience.
I get why some players might not love these kinds of trips -- especially a month into the season. The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks started their seasons with two games in Prague, then after coming home, both clubs struggled for their next few contests.
At this point, the Blue Jackets are hoping to crawl out of the basement of the Metro Division, and two wins against the defending Cup champs would be a terrific start down that road. The Avs themselves are .500 and looking to move back up in the Central.
This is also a big moment for the Finnish players on the rosters. Mikko Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen, Joonas Korpisalo and Patrik Laine have had this one circled on their calendars, with friends and family ready to cheer them on. Just imagine what outfits Laine has planned if this is the bar he has already set this season:
Yeah, Patty's back 🔥 pic.twitter.com/LYvKNaB61M— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) October 25, 2022
'Tis the season
This is an annual thing, but I love seeing what NHL players pick for their Halloween costumes.
Speaking of yearly traditions, shout out to the Bruins for going as a crew of Nintendo characters for their annual visit to a children's hospital in Boston. Good vibes, and Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand as Mario and Luigi is perfect.