It looks to be another long winter in Phoenix if you’re a hockey fan, as it seems the Coyotes are still in the midst of another rebuilding season that has left the team near the bottom of the standings all season long.
Yet, it doesn’t matter if the team wins a game all year because the Coyotes will continue to have one of the bigger, if not the biggest, following of autograph seekers at the team hotel in each city they visit. That’s what happens when one of the greatest to ever play the game is the head coach.
Wayne Gretzky’s third season in Phoenix has not gone exactly as planned on the ice, and many hockey experts wonder how long he will last as the Coyotes’ coach. That would be bad news for collectors, who circle the date when Phoenix comes to town since it means an appearance by The Great One.
The Coyotes made the first of two appearances in St. Paul, Minn., a few weeks ago, and unfortunately, the visit left everyone disappointed. The players, however, were very accommodating with autograph requests. But no one cares too much about the players when Gretzky is around.
Gretzky refused to sign as the team came to town the night before the game, and then he took a hotel shuttle to and from the arena for the team’s game-day morning practice. Taking the shuttle meant being able to avoid dealing with the large crowd of fans outside the team hotel, since the shuttle can pick him up by the front door – an area were fans and collectors are kept more than 50 feet away. For how great of a star and icon he is, Gretzky still has to be considered a great signer, but unfortunately, getting shut out is becoming the trend with him in his role as a head coach.
In Minnesota, he was an outstanding signer in his first season as the Coyotes head coach, but since that time, he has become more difficult to obtain. If you can get close enough to him, he still has that nice-guy mentality, and it seems that turning down fans is still a hard thing for him to do.
Also joining Wayne on the shuttle – and thus not allowing autograph seekers a chance – is another coach and former All-Star, Grant Fuhr. The former star goalie has always been an unbelievable signer who usually goes out of his way to make sure that everyone gets his signature. We just didn’t get a chance this time around.
The players were much easier to obtain and were all very good about signing. The Coyotes do not have much in the way of star power, featuring a roster that the average fan would have a hard time recognizing.
Former Flames and Avalanche star Derek Morris is a veteran with the Coyotes, and he was signing whenever he was asked during the team’s two-day stay in town. Also signing frequently was goalie Iiya Bryzgalov, who was picked up by Phoenix and has proved to be quite the spark in the team’s lineup. Longtime member of the Coyotes and one of hockey’s classiest guys is Shane Doan, who is in his 12th season in the league. There are not many guys nicer than Doan, and he will always find time for autograph seekers. The other good signers with the Coyotes included the following players: Keith Ballard, Brendan Bell, Josh Gratton, Niko Kapanen, Peter Mueller, Steven Reinprecht, Mikael Tellqvist and Michael York.
Hunting for Lions
Speaking of a team that continues to sit near the basement in the standings over a long period of time, the Detroit Lions would have to come to mind for their lack of success in the NFL. Getting Top 10 draft picks year after year has not helped much on the field, as the Lions again missed the playoffs this year and have another off-season of rebuilding in front of them.
In Minnesota, the Lions have been a rather difficult signing team the past five or so years, which does not make sense when considering their on-field performances. This year though proved to be a bit different, as the team was fairly receptive to signing before the game in Minneapolis.
To help autograph seekers, the Lions were at a hotel that does not normally have professional sports teams stay there, so the hotel security was rather light, allowing us to approach the players as they left the hotel. This gave us a chance to obtain signatures from some of the team’s star players, including Calvin Johnson and Jon Kitna. Kitna has seen a career revival in Detroit, and he has become one of the stars with Lions fans. No one on the team was nicer to the small group of collectors waiting than Kitna, who laughed about us waiting outside in what turned out to be a fairly big snowstorm. He gladly signed for all of us waiting, adding his normal Bible verses to his signatures.
Johnson was the No. 2 overall pick in the last draft after a standout collegiate career at Georgia Tech. Johnson is just another in a long line of wide receivers whom the Lions have selected in recent years with their first-round draft picks. While he was not as fan-friendly as Kitna, Johnson did walk and sign for everyone waiting before the game.
Unfortunately, the other star wide receiver with Detroit did not sign. Getting Roy Williams to stop and sign has now become almost impossible, as he again blew by collectors without saying a word.
Surprisingly, running back Kevin Jones was another member of the Lions team who would not sign before the game. This was a big shock, since any other time I have seen Jones, he has been as nice as can be.
The bonus after getting turned down by those two came from a couple of former stars. Former Eagles All-Pro running back Wilbert Montgomery is now a coach with Detroit, and he gladly signed for anyone who asked. The same can be said for Lions president, CEO and former star linebacker Matt Millen, who stopped and signed.
The other good signers with the Lions included the following players: Brian Calhoun, Shaun Cody, Jared DeVries, Kalimba Edwards, Jason Hanson, Shaun McDonald and Troy Walters.