Friday, June 18, 1999 | 10:37 a.m.
Duane Wolf had a prime seat, right behind the goal at the Santa Fe Ice Arena. Cost him all of 10 bucks.
As far as he was concerned, it was a bargain. And Wolf had company. More than 1,200 others shared his opinion as they came out to watch the return of professional roller hockey in Las Vegas.
In fact, the only disappointing thing about the Las Vegas Coyotes' home debut was they lost, 4-3 in a Roller Hockey International shootout to the San Jose Rhinos. That and the low scoring, which you can blame on the excellent goaltending by the Rhinos' Jeff Ferguson and the Coyotes' Brad Guzda.
Otherwise, everyone seemed to be having a good time. There were kids running around all over the place, using the giveaway Coyotes' posters as swords as numerous duels were staged by 6- and 7-year-olds.
There were plenty of women in the audience, young and very young, enjoying the action.
And there were lots of hockey fans like Wolf, glad to see guys skating and checking in Las Vegas again.
"This is pretty good," Wolf said. He was wearing a Las Vegas Flash jersey, the town's first venture into roller hockey from back in 1994 which lasted only one year. "The level of play is a lot higher, a lot faster than what the Flash played."
Nelson Segel didn't even know roller hockey had returned to Las Vegas until his son told him about the Coyotes. So they decided to check it out Thursday.
"We're having fun," he said. "It's a fast game."
There was plenty of skating on the plastic SportCourt, which took nearly eight hours to install Wednesday night and into Thursday morning. The Coyotes finished with 41 shots to the Rhinos' 39, so it wasn't as though there weren't opportunities.
Instead, credit the low score, 3-3 at the end of regulation, to some outstanding goaltending.
And though the Coyotes' 4-1 record is now blemished, chances are another good-sized crowd will be on hand for tonight's 7:30 contest at the Santa Fe against the Dallas Stallions. Team president Mike Talkington figures the coverage from Thursday's game will pique the interest of the town's sports fans.
"I'm very happy with what I saw tonight," Talkington said of the 1,287 that showed up in the 1,500-seat ice rink in Northwest Las Vegas. "That's pretty good for a weeknight."
Talkington said the Coyotes are committed long-term to the market and said the plan calls for at least five years of trying to make it work the second time around. To do so, the team needs to average over 1,000 fans for each of its 13 home games.
"Our budget for this year is $500,000," he said. "We're cherry-picking, starting small. We want to fill this building and make it a tough ticket before we start thinking about moving to a larger place."
Bernie Mullin, the president and CEO of Roller Hockey International, was on hand Thursday. He too, was smiling.
"We're asking our owners to run a professional operation and be in it for the long haul," Mullin said as San Jose battled back from a third-quarter 3-1 deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter. "John (O'Shea) and Mike are doing a solid job."
The league, which took last year off to regroup, came back as a slimmed-down eight-team outfit and the quality of play is supposedly better.
"The key thing is coming back, rebuilding the league, then building on that for next year and the years to come," Mullin said.
The Coyotes have to build a new win streak after seeing their 4-0 start go by the boards Thursday. Chris McSorley, the Coyotes' general manager and coach, was disappointed by the result, but was pleased by the reception the team received in its home debut.
"Losing is unacceptable," he said. "I truly believe this team shouldn't lose a game, ever.
"But we lost our momentum with that late third-quarter goal and that carried over into the fourth. The thing is, you don't start your car without your girlfriend. You have to finish what you start.
"But I was actually very surprised with the attendance. I know the Vegas market -- they'll support a winner."
His players left the building a bit shortchanged. In RHI, you win, you get paid more. McSorley hopes they'll remember that when they arrive at the rink tonight.
"These guys are a bunch of mercenaries chasing a dollar," he said of the players. Then he paused, and smiled.
"What a lovely way to structure a team sport," he added.