For the first time in 102 days there was a hockey game at Acrisure Arena on Sunday, and while it may not have had the importance of Game 7 of the Calder Cup finals, it was historic in its own way.
The NHL's Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks faced off in a preseason game, marking the first big-league hockey game ever in the Coachella Valley and the first teams at the highest level of any sport to play at Acrisure Arena.
And don't tell these teams that preseason games don't matter. This one wound up being a classic as the Ducks scored twice in the final 35 seconds to pull out a stunning reversal and a 5-4 win.
A crowd of 7,545 sounded like about 75% Ducks fans and 25% Coyotes fans.
"This was a really nice rink. I'd seen a little bit of it — my brother played in the AHL finals last year, so I kind of tuned in. So I'd seen it on live stream before, but it was great to see in person," said Ducks forward Ryan Strome, who scored two goals on Sunday, referencing his brother Matt, who was on the Hershey Bears last season. "It was nice to hear the Ducks fans out strong. Lot of jerseys out there, so it was good. Didn't know what to expect, but nice facility here and nice to see the support at a neutral site like that."
The game was part of the 2023-24 Coachella Valley Firebirds season-ticket package, so there were also plenty of Firebirds fans in the house, even without a rooting interest.
And it was a great game for a neutral fan. Nine total goals, a remarkable finish and it was a tense game that even included a brief glove-dropping fist-fight with 3:26 left between Arizona's Justin Kirkland and Anaheim's Scott Harrington.
"It was awesome to see NHL franchises come out here to the desert," said Nathan Garza, who is a Firebirds season ticket holder and a big Anaheim Ducks fan, even sporting the classic Mighty Ducks purple, teal and black jersey Sunday. "It was a win-win scenario for me. It's awesome to see the pros, the game is a little faster and it was fun to be in a crowd with people rooting for both teams. It's just a good event to build hockey in the desert."
Luke Inglis and Darcy Cantrell, who live in San Diego, were walking the concourse in full Coyotes gear. Inglis explained that he grew up in Phoenix and is a huge Coyotes fan, so this was an opportunity not to be missed.
"I was so excited when I heard about this game, and I told her about and she bought me tickets for my birthday, which was three months ago. So we've been looking forward to this for a while," said Inglis, who was attending his first hockey game in person and happy to make just a two-hour drive to see his Coyotes. "It's really impressive to see these guys in sync and skating flawlessly. It's absolutely beautiful to watch."
"It's so much fun to be here in person," she said. "I'm one of the people that doesn't know anything about this sport, and I'm still having a blast."
The four Arizona goals were scored by Michael Carcone, Zach Sanford, Jan Jenik and Dylan Guenther. The Ducks goal-scorers were Strome with two, Bo Groulx with one and then the heroic final goals by Terry and Hagg.
The next hockey game at Acrisure Arena will be a Firebirds exhibition game on Friday against the Ontario Reign. There will be another one Sunday against the Henderson Silver Knights, and the season-opener will be Oct. 13.
Familiar name: The first goal of the game was scored by Arizona's Michael Carcone. That name may sound familiar to Firebirds fans: Carcone was the American Hockey League's leading scorer last season for the Tucson Roadrunners and did some damage against the Firebirds, including a hat trick in one game.
Mascot fun: The teams' two mascots joined the Firebirds' Fuego for a variety of antics during Sunday's game. At one point Arizona's Howler and Anaheim's Wild Wing went into the crowd with Fuego and showered fans with popcorn, whipping around garbage bags full creating some popcorn rain in that section.
Travel details: Although the game was in between the two home bases of the teams, the Ducks came to Acrisure Arena by bus, while the Coyotes flew. Neither team stayed either Saturday night or Sunday night in the desert.
A banner night: It was fair to assume, but now it's official. The Firebirds announced that they will unveil a Western Conference championship banner when the Firebirds open the season on Oct. 13 against the Bakersfield Condors. Get there early.
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Have a question about the Coachella Valley Firebirds or Acrisure Arena? Reach him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: First NHL game at Acrisure Arena sees Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes