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Westgate Says No to Save the Coyotes Coalition; "Rally" Still Set for Saturday

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With all of the uncertainty surrounding the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes ice-hockey team, organizers of a rally in support of keeping the NHL team in Glendale are begging hockey fans to come out en masse Saturday.

Just not to the Westgate City Center -- anymore. 

Contrary to previous reports, the "White Out 2009 -- Save the Phoenix Coyotes Rally" will not be held at Westgate. Apparently, the shopping oasis was not prepared to host a potentially large rally and never agreed to do so.

"I want to make it clear that Westgate is not the bad guy here," says Greg Esposito, spokesman for the Save the Coyotes Coalition. "There was a communication problem on our end, and we sort of jumped the gun in announcing a rally at Westgate. I understand it's short notice, and I understand where Westgate's coming from. Everybody there has been very good to work with."

Esposito says the rally will commence as planned, and will now take place at the Native New Yorker in Glendale, next to Cabelas. In addition to the Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club and the Save the Coyotes Coalition, representatives from sports radio station AM 1060 The FAN and local sports Web site Fanster.com, along with "a special guest emcee from the local media," are expected to be on hand.

The most important thing, Esposito says, is that Valley hockey fans attend the rally to show support for keeping the Phoenix Coyotes here. 

Yes, we said "Valley hockey fans." Some media outlets, such as the Toronto Star, have made much of the fact that, compared to Canada, Phoenix has few real hockey heads. They say the team should just be moved to Ontario if Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie's $213 million bid to buy the team is deemed legit by bankruptcy courts and he's given control of the franchise.

Bull hockey, says Heather Schroeder, president of the Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club. While the booster club only has 357 members (compared to thousands of Canadian fans who have voiced support for moving the team), Schroeder says you can't compare apples and oranges, especially when it comes to hockey fans in Phoenix.

"The reality is, Canada is the hockey capitol of the world," Schroeder says. "It's one of the national sports there. They've been playing hockey in Canada for at least 100 years. Phoenix has only had professional hockey for 13 years. It hasn't had time to grow here like it has in other places. Now, we've got homegrown hockey fans. The fans have gotten more supportive, and attendance at games is even better than it was when the team was at US Airways Arena and in the playoffs."

Esposito agrees that the Coyotes have a huge fan base here, and says losing the team would damage the Valley's economy and culture.

"I've seen 14,000-plus people a night at [Jobing.com] Arena," he says. "I've seen the arena packed to 85 percent capacity for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2002. I think that shows a great deal of support."

"It's important to keep the Coyotes here for socio and economic reasons," Esposito continues. "Obviously, businesses in Glendale benefit from games, there are jobs involved, and [the Phoenix area] has the population to support four major sports teams. When you lose a team, it looks bad on sports fans in town."

The Save the Coyotes Coalition is asking rally attendees to dress in white and show their support for the team. But it's asking fans to go beyond just changing their attire and holding signs.

"The Phoenix Booster Club and the Save the Coyotes Coalition are united in getting people to buy season tickets," Schroeder says. "We're asking people to not only show their support by attending the rally, but with their entertainment dollars."

For more information on the rally, visit savethecoyotes.com or phxcoyotesboosterclub.com, and check back with Valley Fever for a report from Saturday's event. 

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