Tippett liked challenge Coyotes presented


As Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Dave King says, "It's tough to bring a corpse back to life."


As Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Dave King says, "It's tough to bring a corpse back to life."

Unless it's a movie script or, it seems, a hockey team.

After a summer when Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie tried unsuccessfully to buy the Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, the team is now owned by the other 29 NHL teams.

Those teams foot Phoenix's bills, including the players' and coaches' salaries and travel costs, at least until the NHL can find somebody in the desert to take over the orphaned team.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes don't have any fans -- six home dates have yielded fewer than 10,000 patrons, including 5,845 against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 2; 6,495 for the Anaheim Ducks on Halloween; and 6,899 against St. Louis on Oct. 15.

The players endure any number of jokes (the whole rink is a "Fan and Friends" section, everybody came to the game in the same cab).

Some have suggested the Coyotes have already lost $5 million in the first month of the season.

But with all that negativity swirling around the team, the Coyotes have somehow managed to at least be successful on the ice.

The team sports a 13-10-1 record after Monday's game in Edmonton, good enough for fourth place in the Pacific Division.

It's a heartwarming story of this ragamuffin squad that draws better on the road than at home.

"Every single athlete has an ego," said Coyotes captain and Canadian Olympic-team hopeful Shane Doan before Monday's game at Rexall Place.

"You want to play in front of a full building. You want your fans behind you ... but we can't control that.

"To be a fan of the Coyotes the last few years has been really tough and, on top of what happened this summer, made it even tougher. If we win enough, we hope they'll come back."

At the heart of the Coyotes' unexpected on-ice success this season is head coach Dave Tippett, who was fired by the Dallas Stars after last season and hired in the middle of training camp to replace former Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky for the 2009-10 campaign.

Tippett, who was let go in Dallas after Joe Nieuwendyk took over as the Stars new general manager, was still drawing a salary because he was fired before his contract was up.

"There were probably a few people (in his family) looking for some time off," said Tippett, with a laugh, "but I felt it was a good organization ... one where you could come in and build something. That outweighed any vacation time I was due.

"I could see the leadership in the room with Shane, Ed Jovanovski, and I had Matthew Lombardi and Scottie Upshall at the world championship, and we have some real upside with young players. They've got (Mikkel) Boedker and (Kyle) Turris in the minors, to go with Marty Hanzal, Keith Yandle ... good blocks to build with."

Tippett wasn't contacted by the Coyotes until late August, after it became cloudy to general manager Don Maloney that Gretzky, who is still owed money as a part-owner, might not come back to coach.

"I did some homework, watched some games from last year and a few weeks after that we decided to push forward," said Tippett.

Assistant coach Ulf Samulesson looked after things at training camp until Tippett and Dave King came on board. Sean Burke also became the new goalie coach.

It has been difficult for players like Doan, but they have managed to put aside the distractions to play well.

"A change is always difficult, especially with a coach we'd had for a few years, but you don't find guys like Tip (easily)," said Doan.

"We weren't sure what was going to happen, but Ulfie handled it so well in training camp, pushing the pace. It flowed so smoothly into what Tip brought."

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