Coyotes solid during open scrimmage

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Sports,NHL

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Phoenix Coyotes shut down shooting lanes, got some big saves from their goalies and played a game decided by one goal.

It was just a scrimmage, but looked an awful lot like a regular-season game.

Providing a free glimpse at this season's team, the Coyotes showed off their close-to-the-vest style to a few thousand fans during a scrimmage at Jobing.com Arena Wednesday night.

"It felt better than we thought maybe we were going to," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "If you look at that game, it was kind of the way we play: a 2-1 game, 1-1 going into the third. The pace was good, guys were skating well, guys felt good."

Playing in game-like conditions with officials and a running clock, the Coyotes weren't exactly in midseason form, but had a solid scrimmage filled with good defense, some tough saves by Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera, and a couple of opportunistic goals.

OK, so there wasn't much hitting — they're teammates, after all — but it was a good start as the short preparation winds down before the lockout-shortened season starts this weekend.

"Those games, there are some good things, but what they lack is a real physical content," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "That's good because nobody's getting hurt, but not so good because it's not as real as it could be. That's the fine line you have to walk, but from a structure point of view from things we've been working on the last few days in practice, I thought it was solid."

The Coyotes built up a surge of momentum last season, luring fans back out to Jobing.com Arena while winning their first division title and reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time in 33 years as an NHL franchise.

The possibility of former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison buying the team — after three years of being run by the league — added to the excitement.

The 113-day NHL lockout all but ended the Coyotes' surge, putting hockey again on the backburner to all the other sports and activities available in the Valley of the Sun.

With the official end of the lockout last Saturday, Phoenix, like the rest of the league, had a short window to get ready for the start of the season.

The Coyotes figured to be in better shape than most teams, keeping the core of their team from last season.

To drum up interest from the fans again, the team opened its practices to the public during the six-day training camp, including Wednesday night's scrimmage.

The fans clearly had their interest piqued, filling the lower sections enough to make it look about like a preseason game at Jobing.com Arena while they let out a few chants of "Let's go Coy-otes!" during the scrimmage.

On the ice, Tippett mixed the teams up, teaming veterans with prospects, while forwards Shane Doan and Boyd Gordon sat out with minor injuries.

For the start of training camp, the Coyotes called up forward Alexandre Bolduc and Andy Miele with defensemen David Rundblad and Michael Stone from their AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine, giving them a chance to compete for roster spots.

Phoenix added seven more players from the Pirates for the scrimmage, in part so they could have enough players, but also to give the younger players some confidence in case they're needed during the 48-game NHL season.

"With a 48-game schedule, there's a good chance everyone one of those players could play for us this year," Tippett said. "Bringing all those guys in today, it was a signal to them that they still belong, that in a short season, anything can happen."

Two of the Portland players teamed up for the first goal, drawing a big cheer from the crowd after center Brendan Shinnimin poked in a rebound off a shot by Chris Brown just past goalie Jason LaBarbera.

A more familiar combination scored the second goal: Radim Vrbata beat Mike Smith stick-side later in the second period after Martin Hanzal won a faceoff in the left circle.

Mikkel Boedker ended the scoring in the third period, punching in a rebound after an odd-man rush.

The Coyotes closed with a shootout and acknowledged the cheers from the fans by raising their sticks at center ice before heading into the locker room.

"It was awesome, amazing," Yandle said. "I went out before the game and saw many people were out there and you even fed off that a little bit. It's just a reminder that everybody's backing us again this year."

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