TEMPE, Ariz. — If the substantial number of Rangers fans in attendance didn’t make the club’s first experience at Mullett Arena one to remember, the rambunctious atmosphere and back-to-college feel of the building certainly did.
The intimacy of the lower bowl was palpable. There were jerseys from all walks of life to be seen. It felt like a melting pot of hockey’s rowdiest traditions.
“I have no words, I really don’t,” K’Andre Miller said with a laugh. “I’ve been trying to figure out what I just played. I don’t know. It was a weird game. You see the guys in the stands taking off his shirts. I don’t know.
“It was a fun atmosphere, that’s for sure. Something you’re not really used to once you play in the league for a little bit. It was cool.”
Sure, the locker rooms are barren with only the absolute essentials — just a chair to sit on and a stall to hang your jersey in. And yes, there are scarce concession options that make Madison Square Garden look like a five-star restaurant of Bobby Flay’s or Gordon Ramsay’s.
But you know what? The NHL-sized dimensions and quality of the ice is really all that matters, and the Rangers seemingly had no problem with either in their 3-2 win over the Coyotes on Sunday night.
Eight of the Rangers’ players in the lineup have played college hockey, including five of their six defensemen. So it was the kind of atmosphere a few of them are quite familiar with. Though there’s something about an NHL-qualified arena that’s been dropped in the middle of the one of the most notorious party campuses in America.
Oh, and the Rangers got to experience it all on Halloween weekend nonetheless. The kids cleaning the ice during commercial breaks were dressed up for the occasion, as were many others in the stands. There was everything from Disney princesses to “Beetlejuice” characters.
“It was good actually,” Alexis Lafreniere said. “It reminded me of my junior days a little bit. Just the size of the building. The crowd was loud, too, that was great.”
The love the Rangers got from the crowd, however, surely topped it all. From the moment the team took the ice, the Rangers fans in attendance made their presence felt. They sang the goal song after every tally. The “Potvin Sucks!” chant made an appearance or two. The fans in blue even held their own even when the Rangers went down 2-1 in the middle of the second period.
And, hey, there’s at least two more years of this as the Coyotes work to build a new arena in Tempe. It won’t have the same charm as this one though.
“A lot of them,” Artemi Panarin said of the Blueshirts in the stands. “Nice to see them. Big thank you for supporting us.”
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