A Season on the Rink

A tumultuous year inside the crucible that is the National Hockey League

Born in a small town in Saskatchewan, Keilback--like just about every Canadian boy--played hockey, lived hockey, breathed hockey.

"But I couldn't skate worth a damn," he says, shaking his head at the memory.

Keilback's dad also was a hockey play-by-play man. Jim Keilback--now a Sun City West resident--broadcast Phoenix minor-league hockey games on and off from the early 1970s until 1993.

"It was something I wanted to do from day one," Curt Keilback says. "I thought that was a great way for me to stay around hockey."

His heroes were his father, and Canadian radio legend Danny Gallivan, because of the passion that they brought to their jobs night after night.

"I hope that I bring that passion to the game, because I feel it," Keilback says. "It takes a while to wind down after a game. I usually go have a beer or something. You're so wired that you want to go and do something.

"The faster the game, the more I like it. Lots of action, flying up and down the ice, good. Sometimes, it goes so fast I find myself saying half-words, like 'reba' instead of rebound. I hope that it adds urgency to the situation, because that's what it is."

Of the Coyotes' season, Keilback says, "It did start off kind of extreme, with all those wins. What really matters--and let me be as obvious as I can be--is what happens starting on April 22."

Chicago Blackhawks
at Coyotes
February 6, 1999

The sellout game on this beautiful Saturday afternoon marks the season's only visit from the Blackhawks.

Even though the Coyotes have been winning recently, Rick Tocchet is troubled by the Room's vibe.

"I think everybody's got to relax a little bit," he says the day before the game. "It's been kind of topsy-turvy the last month. We've only lost two of the last 11, and guys aren't really happy with it, which is a good sign, but we've got to learn how to relax--there's been a little bit too much of getting on each other. That's what happens around this time of year."

Some observers are convinced Tocchet is referring to Schoenfeld as much as to his teammates.

Nils Lofgren, Neil Young's longtime sideman, sings the national anthem before the game, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

One of the NHL's six original franchises, the Hawks have fallen on hard times, though they do have one of the league's premier scorers in Tony Amonte.

Amonte gets a breakaway chance early in the game, and flies at Khabibulin. He fires the puck from a few feet away, trying to power it over the goalie's left shoulder into the net. Somehow, Khabibulin flicks the disk with his glove and it skids away harmlessly.

It's an electric moment. The crowd jumps to its feet, chanting "BUUUUUU," as in Khabi-BUUUUU-lin.

Later in the period, bruising Coyotes right wing Jim Cummins gets into a tiff with Chicago rookie enforcer Brad Brown. Both players yap at each other as the refs restore order.

Hockey is unique among major sports in that players are interviewed briefly between periods on television and radio. Radio host Todd Walsh corrals Cummins outside the Room after a scoreless first period.

"Mr. Brown wanted you to come over there and say hello," the droll Walsh notes.

"Me and Mr. Brown might be seeing each other again," Cummins replies.
"Okie-dokey, then," Walsh says. "I'll let you go on that one. . . . It's kind of breaking up. I couldn't hear what he said."

When play resumes, Cummins nails Brown as promised with a vicious elbow to the face. Brown plummets to the ice. Cummins will draw a five-game suspension.

(A hard worker who is popular with teammates, Cummins has had a difficult season. In November and December--when the Coyotes were hot--he was benched for 13 straight games as a "healthy scratch," the odd man out. Then Cummins got thrown out of his first game back after a fight. But he's kept his sense of humor. During one pregame show, Walsh told Cummins about a press-row clash he'd had with a writer. Walsh asked how he would have handled the situation. "In my line of work, we drop the gloves and get after it," Cummins replied. "But in the real world, you don't get two minutes, you get two years.")

Defenseman Jyrki Lumme scores two goals, as the Coyotes coast to a 3-0 win.
The shutout is Khabibulin's fifth of the year. He faces the media after the game, comfortable with his greatly improved English. Asked how he stopped Amonte's bullet, Khabibulin shrugs.

"I guess I have no idea," he says. "Sometimes you just have an idea where it's going to go before it goes there. Make sense?"

Anaheim Mighty Ducks
at Coyotes
February 14, 1999

People told me I was a [coach of the year], and then the media is saying that one more loss and I'm fired. I started telling my friends, "I don't want to be coach of the year. I want to be a coach for the rest of the year."

--Jim Schoenfeld

The hatred between the Coyotes and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks is akin to the football rivalry between the universities in Tucson and Tempe.

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