NHL Utah GM Almost Moved to Tears at ‘Welcome the Team’ Event

Liam O'Brien

Getty Liam O'Brien, NHL Utah

After years of drama and uncertainty about their future, the NHL team formerly known as the Arizona Coyotes finally had the opportunity to turn the page on April 24 in Salt Lake City.

On April 17, the team bade an emotional farewell to Arizona with their final game in the desert, capping off a turbulent final month of the franchise. Exactly one week later, they received a hero’s welcome in Utah as the NHL’s newest club.

Former Coyotes Players, Staff ‘Blown Away’ by Fan Reception in Utah

On Wednesday, team executives, coaches, players, staff and their families visited their new home in Utah for the first time as their new ownership hosted a “Welcome the Team” event. The Athletic’s Ian Mendes documented the team’s arrival in Salt Lake City, describing the emotional scene as the players and staff stepped off the plane sporting black hoodies with an NHL logo that read “Utah, Est. 2024″ and were greeted by the raucous cheers of hundreds of fans and local youth hockey players on the tarmac.

“Getting off that plane and for those players today, it was a clean slate for them,” Utah general manager Bill Armstrong said, according to Mendes. “You could see the joy in their faces when they saw the kids. I don’t know if the kids will ever understand how much that meant to the players. I almost had a tear in my eye coming down.”

After disembarking, the players spent approximately 15 minutes signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans. Utah head coach Andre Tourigny said he was moved by the warm welcome they got at the airplane hangar.

“It made us feel at home already,” Tourigny said. “We already want to fight for Utah. I’m blown away right now.”

Utah Players, Staff Get an Emotional Homecoming Following Weeks of Uncertainty

From the airport, the players, staff and their significant others departed for a tour of the Utah Jazz practice facility before heading to their new home at the Delta Center. With 12,000 unobstructed seats, the Delta Center can hold almost three times as many spectators as the 4,600 that could fit into the team’s previous home at Mullett Arena in Tempe. The facility will also undergo renovations over the next two or three years to host more than 17,000 fans for hockey.

More than 12,400 people packed the arena to welcome the team on Wednesday. Utah team owners Ryan and Ashley Smith took the stage to welcome the crowd, sharing that the number of fans who have placed a deposit for season tickets for the 2024-25 season has risen to 29,000.


The crowd erupted into thunderous applause when the players and team executives entered and took the stage. Each of the 17 players in attendance had a chance to take the mic and personally introduce themselves to the fans in attendance, with center Liam O’Brien making an early case to become Utah’s fan favorite.

“My name is Liam O’Brien, but you can call me Spicy Tuna,” he said. “Let’s get this place buzzing!”

The crowd cheered and broke into a “Spicy Tuna!” chant with encouragement from center Jack McBain. Players and staff couldn’t help but get emotional reflecting on how much had changed over the past several weeks since rumors of the team’s sale and potential relocation first began to swirl.

“It’s been a surreal experience,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think there is a player here that is coming to visit that isn’t emotional about the feeling they get when they see the fans here. And how excited they are in Utah to have us.”

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