Ottawa Senators centre Mark Kastelic sad to see Arizona Coyotes move

It’s expected the Coyotes will play their final home game at the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe on Wednesday, followed an announcement of relocation to Salt Lake City.

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The news of the Arizona Coyotes move to Salt Lake City next season hit home for Mark Kastelic.

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Born and raised in Phoenix, the 25-year-old Ottawa Senators centre has never known the Valley of the Sun to be without a National Hockey League team and he’s sorry to see the Coyotes that they are preparing to pack their bags once a sale deal is completed.

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While nothing is official, it’s expected the Coyotes will play their final home game at the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe on Wednesday, followed the next day by an announcement by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that the franchise will be relocated to Salt Lake City.

Ryan Smith, owner of the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz, is expected to purchase the franchise in a complicated transaction that begins with the league buying the Coyotes from Alex Muerelo.

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Originally the Winnipeg Jets, the club was purchased and moved to Phoenix in 1996. Since then, the Coyotes have gone through several different ownership groups and the situation of playing a small rink is no longer tenable.

Mark Kastlelic Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Senators centre Mark Kastelic was born in Arizona, where his family stayed put after his father played for the Phoenix Roadrunners in 1992-93. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

“From afar, it may seem like hockey doesn’t belong there, but, when you live in it, there’s some passionate fans there,” Kastelic said before facing the Senators played the Montreal Canadiens in a home game on Saturday night. “A lot of people have grown up with hockey, and the Coyotes will be missed for sure.”

Kastelic’s father, Ed, played 220 NHL games with the Washington Capitals and the Hartford Whalers. The elder Kastelic and his wife, Susan, made their home in Arizona after Ed played the 1992-93 season with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the International Hockey League.

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Mark Kastelic grew up playing hockey in the Phoenix area and saw the growth of the sport first-hand.

He believes the fact the Coyotes are leaving is unfortunate.

“For myself, personally, it’s sad. That’s a team I grew up watching and I have a lot of attachment to it,” Kastelic said. “They’re not going to be around anymore. After watching them my whole life and getting the chance to play against them in the NHL, it’s sad.

“Those are some of my favourite games of the year, getting the chance to play in front of friends and family. That’s something the people there are going to miss, for sure. I just feel for a lot of the younger generation. I had the Coyotes to look up to when I was growing up.

“That’s what got me involved in the sport. Some of my favourite players were on that team. Now young kids won’t be able to have that and that’s going to be a little bit disappointing.”

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Karel Vejmelka Arizona Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka looks down during the third period of a game against the Seattle Kraken last Tuesday. Photo by Lindsey Wasson /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hockey fans in Canada have always been skeptical about the NHL’s decision to go to Arizona in the first place. The Coyotes haven’t been helped by the fact they’ve never really had stable ownership, but the sport is thriving there on the youth front.

You need look no further than Toronto Maple Leafs all-star centre Auston Matthews, an Arizona native who went into Saturday night on the verge of a 70-goal season, to realize that the state has produced some good players.

“There’s a community and minor hockey is growing year-by-year,” Kastelic said. “You definitely have more and more kids that are playing the sport and wanting to go to Coyotes games. I really just think that it’s grown a lot there over the last 10 years.

“Now to finally make it this far, with the growth in the sport and everything, Arizona has come a long way and it’s just a weird feeling because now they’re leaving.”

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It always felt like the Coyotes were on borrowed time since they moved to Mullett Arena. Bettman has been bullish on the market, but even he knew in his heart of hearts that the organization couldn’t survive playing in a rink on the campus of Arizona State University.

Since the Jets moved there, the Coyotes have played in three arenas.

First there was the old America West Arena in downtown Phoenix, which had obstructed views for hockey because it had been built for basketball. Then the Coyotes moved to Glendale, which felt like it was a good place for them, but the organization didn’t pay its bills, leading to eviction from that arena.

Moving to Mullett was fun at first, but the novelty has worn off.

“That was kind of the nail in the coffin,” Kastelic said. “You want to have an NHL facility, and from the outside everybody just sees the Mullett Arena, then they’re seeing arena deals (in the area) fall through.

“To not have that security of NHL facility, that’s probably the biggest factor in them leaving. I thought the Glendale location wasn’t great, but it was a bigger arena and it was more respected. They were able to fill it up, especially when they went to the (2012 Western) Conference final, and you could see that the passion was there. The arena really is a tough one.”

The end is near for the Coyotes. Those who grew up with them will be sad to see the team leave.

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