'I wonder what he can do in 3 months': How the Smiths won over Utah's new NHL club

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Alex Kerfoot grabbed the mic and looked around at the raucous crowd that had packed the Delta Center.

As the 29-year-old forward took in the cheers and the chants from the 12,000-plus who crammed into the arena to get a glimpse at Utah's NHL team on Wednesday, he smiled in disbelief.

"This is one of the coolest experiences we've had as hockey players," he said to deafening applause.

That's not something he — or any of his teammates — thought they'd be experiencing last week.

The team that made up the Arizona Coyotes had been essentially left in the dark as a deal was worked out for their futures. Rumors and reports leaked out, sure, but the team rarely got any information from official channels.

"We were caught in the middle. … You don't know what's next, you don't know what's going on," Utah's head coach André Tourigny said of those moments.

They at least got some answers last Thursday. Just hours after the deal was signed, Ryan and Ashley Smith were in Arizona to meet with the team.

The Smiths walked into a room full of uncertainty, but by the time they left, the mood had changed.

"It was important," Lawson Crouse said of that first meeting. "The thing that we respect the most was just how genuine they both were. Ryan came into the room, he pulled up a chair and we just had a real honest conversation. And I think that went a really long way with our group with everything that we've been through over the past couple of weeks."

General manager Bill Armstrong said the meeting brought a "great sense of purpose and calmingness to the group." After years of dealing with a precarious stadium situation and relocation rumors, the team was finally on more solid footing.

"Ryan and Ashley showed up and gave us certainty that day," Armstrong said. "There's a lot of great emotions that followed."

So what was the Smiths' message?

Tourigny broke it down into three parts. He said that 45% was about how much they cared about people, another 45% was about how much they loved Utah, the people there, and how excited they were to bring the NHL to the state. The other 10%? That was about how they intended to build a Stanley Cup contender.

"That resonated a lot for me. That's good value. That's good stuff," Tourigny said.

The Smiths shook each member of the team's hands and introduced themselves, and then the team went on a golf outing.

"He paid for everything. It was a great time, getting to chat with him," four-time All-Star Clayton Keller said. "We just talked about life, how hockey is, things away from the rink. They're both awesome, and we're super excited to be here."

Especially to help start the vision that the Smiths laid out.

"The things that stood out to me the most was just their positive outlook on bringing hockey here and their excitement to do that," Crouse said. "And for us as players, we're so honored and so happy to be a part of this process, and really looking forward to the future, building something special here and making history."

The players got a taste of how special things could become in Utah on Wednesday. As they deboarded a plane in Salt Lake City, they were greeted by hundreds of cheering youth hockey players. Hours later, they got a hero's welcome as they walked into a full-capacity Delta Center.

Sure, there are things to iron out before the fall — a name, team colors, a temporary practice facility, getting an NHL locker room installed at the Delta Center — but Tourigny doesn't see any of those being an issue.

"He bought a team in the NHL and moved them to Utah in six weeks," Tourigny said. "I wonder what he can do in three months."

Most recent Utah Jazz stories

Related topics

Utah JazzSports
KSL.com Utah Jazz reporter


From first downs to buzzer beaters, get KSL.com’s top sports stories delivered to your inbox weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast