Arizona Coyotes president and co-owner Anthony LeBlanc and his partners had just bought the team a few years ago when they were having a dinner with the Coyotes coaching staff.
During the dinner, then-goalie coach Sean Burke mentioned the play of a local kid in Arizona who had absolutely blown him away. It’s the first time LeBlanc remembers hearing the name Auston Matthews.
“[Burke] is telling me about this kid who plays at the IceDen, and obviously he’s talking about Auston,” LeBlanc said. “He said, ‘He’s the best player I’ve ever seen in my life.’ ... After that, I started hearing more and more buzz about him.”
Matthews, as you might have heard, didn’t end up with the Coyotes. And on some level, it seemed like a huge opportunity lost for the Coyotes.
Matthews had a great hockey backstory that began with a trip to a Coyotes game. He had two involved parents in the area. He already had a fan base there. It was just about the perfect scenario. Instead, he went to Toronto.
Then a funny thing happened. Matthews scored four goals in his NHL debut and the impact on ticket sales was immediate. Not on the Maple Leafs, a team that doesn’t have any issue finding fans. In Arizona.