Coyotes go back to school to rebuild NHL’s goodwill

Sept. 10, 2005
Ed Odeven
AZ Daily Sun sports column

“Did you have fun?” a man asked.

“Yeahhh!” they shouted in unison.

This was the scene at Killip Elementary School’s gym Wednesday afternoon, where a group of more than 40 students met Krys Kolanos and Matthew Spiller of the Phoenix Coyotes.

The pros were in town as part of the hockey club’s statewide “Coyotes’ Caravan,” a program designated to provide elementary school students with educational and safety material and give them a close-up look at the sport of hockey. Asking players questions and getting their autographs are two popular aspects of the program. (The team also visited Prescott and several Valley-area locations during the past week.)

The Coyotes also visited Thomas K. Knoles and Marshall elementary schools and the Jay Lively Center for an open skate Wednesday.

The after-school program at Killip was split into two groups. The earlier group got to meet the players at around 3 p.m., while the later group had about 20 kids in it.

Bob Heethuis, the Coyotes’ radio play-by-play man, served as the master of ceremonies.

“How many of you have played hockey?” he asked.

A few hands were raised.

Moments later, Heethuis introduced Kolanos, a 24-year-old center from Calgary, Alberta, and Spiller, a 22-year-old defenseman from Daysland, Alberta, to the kids.

Their eyes lit up as Heethuis shifted gears from introductions — he revealed that Spiller is known as “7-footer,” because he’s nearly 7-feet tall with his ice skates and that Kolanos is dubbed “Special K,” because he’s a “special-type player” — to beginning the talk about equipment.

“Who wants to put on equipment?”

Nearly every hand went up.

Heethuis, however, decided it would be more fair to have a different volunteer, a less-eager participant, be part of this show-and-tell segment.

The kids decided on the fellow they call Mr. Trace, NAU senior microbiology major Trace Updike, a 23-year-old after-school counselor.

Kolanos put one piece of equipment after another — shin pads, hockey pants, shoulder pads, elbow pads, Spiller’s No. 6 white jersey and a helmet — on Updike. This was happening while Spiller explained what each piece of equipment is used for.

They left the ice skates at Glendale Arena, though.

But plenty of sticks were available for the students. First, they watched Spiller and Kolanos take turns passing a plastic puck on the wood floor and showing a few nifty stickhandling maneuvers.

“Do you guys want to do that?” said Heethuis, who got to ask his fair share of fun questions.


Several lines were set up. Kids took turns stickhandling, walking or running several feet with the puck near their stick, around an orange cone and back to the front of the line. Some passed the puck (or a street hockey ball), too.

After one kid’s sharp, on-target pass, Kolanos let him know he was impressed. “Nice pass buddy,” the pro said.

Martin Ortiz, 9, flashed a million-dollar smile after Wednesday’s second afternoon session at Killip as he discussed the fun he had.

“I never saw them play (before),” he said. “They are really cool.”

Destiney Evans, 12, agreed.

“They are very fun and I got their autographs,” she said, smiling. I learned a lot about hockey (today).”

Such as?

“I thought the equipment was one big (piece),” she added.

Cole Wilson, 12, and Garrett Wilson, 9, also enjoyed getting their autographs. Cole said he’d gotten autographs only once before — Arizona’s Miss America beauty pageant contestant signed something for him.

Savannah Goodway, who turns 10 on Monday, was asked what she liked about the players’ visit.

“Everything,” she offered.

Dianna Ortiz, 11, enjoyed the equipment demonstration.

“They showed me hockey sticks and named the things they put on (to play),” she said, grinning with delight.

Carlie Worrell, 10, summed it up this way: “It’s cool getting to see them practice.”

Earlier in the day, before they ate cheeseburgers at Buster’s Restaurant & Bar, I sat down with Kolanos and Spiller for a casual interview.

We started our talk by discussing the day’s activities. I asked them what it’s like to visit schools and meet kids.

“They had a few giggles when we dressed up the principal (to) put all the equipment on her and stuff,” Spiller said, referring to Knoles principal Mary K. Walton. “I think they really had fun with that.”

Kolanos said the students asked him and Spiller a variety of questions, ranging from their age, to their positions, to their daily routine, to how long they practice, and “everything there is to know about hockey.

“The kids were so excited to ask as many questions as possible,” Kolanos added.

The Coyotes’ training camp officially commences with a team meeting today.

Indeed, they are eager to get back on the ice after the bitter lockout forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season.

“I think guys are really excited,” Spiller said. “It’s going to be a new league out there, new rules, and it’s going to be awesome for the fans, I think.”

Now both Canadian natives look forward to playing for the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes’ first-year head coach.

“He’ll be around to answer questions and he’s going to give you his two cents and it’s going to be a great experience for everyone,” Kolanos said.