February 29, 2012 | 8:24am
We used to love to check out the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team when they skated around the arena in downtown Phoenix. The crowds were enthusiastic, even if the team itself never could get past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Then they moved out to the hinterlands of Glendale, had all manner of ownership and other troubles, and we slowly tired of the whole thing and took our sports thoughts elsewhere.
So did much of the team's fan base, which didn't even know before the start of last season if the Phoenix/Glendale Coyotes were toast as a franchise.
But we admired the team's pluck, and the steadfast way in which head coach Dave Tippett kept it all together in the face of on and off the ice adversity.
Well, without much fanfare (but more and more fans), the Phoenix Coyotes became the nation's best professional sports team in the month of February, ending the month with a record of 11-0-1.
Last night's 2-1 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks in front of a rowdy and large crowd at the Jobing.Com Arena was a thriller. Goalie Mike Smith, who was a career back-up until the Coyotes picked him up, won his 11th in a row with yet another acrobatic performance.
Beating the Canucks, who are rated by many as the NHL's best team at the moment, was a big deal.
We loved the post-game interview of Smith conducted by the Coyotes' (and Arizona Diamondbacks) great color man, Todd Walsh, one of the best in the business.
Walsh is an obvious diehard fan as well as being a top-flight announcer.
The ubiquitous sports chick Jody Jackson also was on hand to offer her analysis of the game. She's quite knowledgable , and we got a hoot of her almost-Canadian accent that, probably subconsciously, she employed during the post-game chat.
Really, we expected her to say, "Doncha know?" or "You're darn tootin'!" but she apparently drew the line.
Here's hoping, for the sake of all long-suffering Coyotes fans, that the team keeps playing well and makes it into the playoffs, which begin in about six weeks.
Phoenix (the team, if not the franchise itself) has found its mojo, and it's something to behold.