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After the Coyotes' departure, Arizona youth hockey has put pressure on | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

MESA, Ariz. – Audrey Ju met some of her best friends through hockey, knows someone at every rink she visits and is close with numerous families in the close-knit community.

The Arizona Coyotes' move to Utah raised questions about the future.

The Phoenix-area teen isn't worried. The NHL may be leaving, but youth hockey programs across Arizona are on solid footing.

“Most programs have a strong foundation,” she said. “If the Coyotes had to go, I’m obviously sad about it, but the Kachinas (girls hockey program) are all set up and the other programs have been around for a while.”

Still, the Coyotes' move has left a void in the Arizona hockey community.

Lyndsey Fry is trying to fill the gap in youth hockey.

The 2014 Olympian founded the Matt Shott Arizona Hockey Legacy Foundation, which aims to support hockey programs for boys and girls in the Phoenix area.

The nonprofit organization will honor former Coyotes director of hockey development Matt Shott, who helped lay the foundation for youth hockey in Arizona before his death in 2021, and will begin funding opportunities and programs. The foundation is expected to begin accepting donations this month, and Fry hopes to eventually create a $10 million endowment that will provide about $500,000 a year to support youth hockey programs throughout the Phoenix area .

“There's just a lot of uncertainty right now and people in the hockey community are experiencing a lot of emotion with the Coyotes leaving for Utah,” said Fry, founder and director of the Arizona Kachinas' girls hockey programs. “I think the question that worries a lot of people the most is: What’s going to happen to the growth of hockey here? It's grown exponentially since the Coyotes got here in 1996, and we want to make sure it doesn't slow down.”

Since the Coyotes' arrival, youth hockey in Arizona has been on the rise, increasing from 4,949 players registered with USA Hockey in the 2002-03 season to 9,716 last year. The number of rinks in Arizona has increased from two to nine, including seven in the Phoenix area.

The state has produced numerous NHL players, most notably Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews, who was born in California but grew up playing hockey in Arizona.

The Shott Foundation wants to keep this pipeline open.

When the Coyotes were in Arizona, the NHL supported youth hockey in the state through the Industry Growth Fund, which provided about $500,000 annually.

The Coyotes franchise can be reactivated – via an NHL expansion – by owner Alex Meruelo if a new arena is built within the next five years. However, it is unclear whether the league will continue the flow of money into the state through the IGF. Meruelo said at the Coyotes' farewell press conference that he intends to continue supporting youth hockey in Arizona until the franchise is reactivated.

Lyndsey Fry poses at the Arizona Made Ice Forum on May 1, 2024 in Mesa, Arizona. The 2014 Olympian founded the Matt Shott Arizona Hockey Legacy Foundation to support boys and girls hockey programs after the Arizona Coyotes moved to Utah. (AP Photo/John Marshall)
photo Lyndsey Fry trains during an Arizona Kachinas ice hockey practice at the Arizona Made Ice Forum in Mesa, Ariz., May 1, 2024. The 2014 Olympian founded the Matt Shott Arizona Hockey Legacy Foundation to support boys and girls ice hockey programs after the Arizona Coyotes have moved there to Utah. (AP Photo/John Marshall)
photo Lyndsey Fry trains during an Arizona Kachinas ice hockey practice at the Arizona Made Ice Forum in Mesa, Ariz., May 1, 2024. The 2014 Olympian founded the Matt Shott Arizona Hockey Legacy Foundation to support boys and girls ice hockey programs after the Arizona Coyotes have moved there to Utah. (AP Photo/John Marshall)

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