Ten days into the Phoenix Coyotes' first season in the desert, Joe Gilmartin praised the club for spending to score a foundational star. Gilmartin was a veteran basketball columnist moonlighting as an authority on hockey, and on Oct. 15, 1996, he explained to Arizona Republic readers the merits of signing Jeremy Roenick long term. Twice a 50-goal scorer with the Chicago Blackhawks, Roenick, 26, decided to hold out when the Coyotes traded for him that summer. His bosses wound up paying him $20 million over five years.

"Even if you can't tell a hockey puck from a frozen bagel (the bagel's the one with a hole in it)," Gilmartin wrote, "you have to be impressed with the way owners Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern are going about what executive vice president of hockey operations Bobby Smith calls 'transferring the Winnipeg Jets into an elite NHL team.'"

Optimism trended in Arizona 25 years ago this month. Before the Coyotes' first home game, Gary Bettman likened the occasion to when Wayne Gretzky set the NHL career goals record, remarking to the Republic that both were magical moments. The commissioner was intent on growing hockey in the south, delivering teams to Anaheim, Dallas, and Sunrise, Florida, in 1993 alone. Burke originally wanted to relocate the cash-strapped Jets to Minnesota, his home state. Negotiations stalled and he settled on Phoenix instead.

New identity markers materialized in this untapped market. "Coyotes" edged "Scorpions," "Dry Ice," and "Phreeze" in a public name-the-team contest. The club's primary logo, a coyote clutching a stick, was shaped like an 'A' and designed to resemble a Native American kachina figure. Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who helped broker the NHL's arrival, suggested fans celebrate goals by hurling plastic scorpions over the glass, like the rubber rats thrown at Florida Panthers games. Assistant captain Kris King objected; he'd walloped a live scorpion with his sandal at an area hotel when the critter scuttled across his foot.

King and his teammates touched down in Arizona as ambassadors of a curious sport. The Republic's preview coverage included definitions of key terms: five-hole, line change, power play, slap shot. King, Keith Tkachuk, and an Elvis impersonator paraded a Zamboni through downtown to get people talking about the Coyotes. To explain why he thought Tkachuk, a 50-goal power forward, would become a fan favorite, general manager John Paddock compared him to a football player.

Ahead of the season, Tkachuk asked others to trust him when he explained why Phoenix would "fall in love" with hockey: "Goals. Plenty of action. Hits like you've never seen. Great saves. Awesome passes. Huge plays. It just goes on and on."

The Jets departed Winnipeg as a playoff team, stoking Paddock and Smith's belief that the Coyotes might soon contend for Stanley Cups. King opened the scoring in the home opener, a 4-1 defeat of the San Jose Sharks at America West Arena. The sellout crowd mimicked coyote howls. That the temperature outside eclipsed 100 F was part of the charm, Coyotes president Shawn Hunter told the crush of Canadian reporters in attendance.