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Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The war with Japan had been enacted in the game rooms at the War College by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise.”

The above quote is credited to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet during WWII. Nimitz himself had actually expected an attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy as far back as the mid-1930s, one that would plunge America into war with Japan and her Axis ally Germany. This foresight and preparation went far in helping Nimitz, (who was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Texas far from any ocean), toward his ultimate victory.

Today there is another battle going on in the Pacific, although it’s of a different nature and manner. It’s the Pacific Division of the NHL where five teams – San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Vancouver, and Phoenix – are waging war against one another for the top spot in what is arguably the league’s best division. Going into this weekend’s schedule, only four points separated the five.

Much like Nimitz seven decades prior, coach Dave Tippett saw the looming battle coming into the season, and to avoid any unnecessary surprises he’s prepared his team for the long, grueling fight. Beginning with Saturday night’s game against the Sharks, the Coyotes are now in the midst of a week-long tour of duty where they face off against three of the other four teams that have made the Pacific rough seas in which to navigate.

Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett is pleased with his team's start. But as any good leader will do, he still looks for ways to improve

Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett is pleased with his team’s start. But as any good leader will do, he still looks for ways to improve

Tippett and his crew, however, are not only prepared for the challenge – they are looking forward to it.

“When you came into the beginning of the year, you knew San Jose, L.A. and Anaheim were going to be big strong teams,” Tippett commented as his team prepared to kick off the important stretch of games in San Jose. “Vancouver has been a very good team for a long time. With the re-alignment these division games are very important, and I think you’re starting to see that play out.”

Tippet also points out that with the current division setup, and the onus now being put on placement in the division for playoffs spots, it just makes these head-to-head games that much more significant.

While playing in a highly competitive division such as the NHL’s Pacific could be considered a detriment to some, to Tippett it can act in their favor as it tends to keep a hockey team sharp, especially one that has set his goals for the current campaign further than just the visible horizon.

“Ultimately I think it helps you,” he explained with a healthy dose of respect for the advisories that he and his team face in the Pacific. “I think it makes you a stronger team. If you can compete against other top teams on a consistent basis and do well against them, then it puts you in that upper echelon. And that’s where we want to be, we want to be looked upon as a strong contender very year, a team that can be mentioned with the top teams in the league. We realize you have to earn that right to be there.”

Picking up where his coach left off, Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle added, “If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. The goal is to get to the playoffs, and obviously if you’re playing against these kinds of teams, that gets you ready for the playoffs.”

“There’s no easy night, not that there’s any night off in the NHL,” Yandle continued. “But against these guys you have to be on top of your game in our division I think more so than in others.”

Center Kyle Chipchura pointed to their game against the Sharks as a source of motivation for the Yotes, who were beaten soundly the last time the two teams fired their guns in anger upon each other.

“We were really looking forward to coming back here,” Chipchura pointed out. “Especially after the second game of the season when we got rolled in there, we’ve really been looking forward for our turn to go back in there. These are fast games, physical games.

“They’re a division team that we want to be right up there with them fighting for the lead all season long. These are games you look forward to playing.”

The sentiments of the players match the attitude of the man who leads them. Tippett, who passed Bobby Francis for most wins as head coach via Saturday night’s shootout win against the Sharks, is a man they are ready to go into battle with and win games for.

“The whole group of guys really enjoy playing for him,” Chipchura said of his coach. “He gives everybody an established role and there’s no grey area of what he expects out of you. He treats everyone like professionals and everyone’s willing to play hard for him.”

Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle and his teammates have a healthy respect for their Pacific Division rivals, as well as their head coach in Phoenix

Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle and his teammates have a healthy respect for their Pacific Division rivals, as well as their head coach in Phoenix

“He’s a guy you want to play for, you want to win for,” Yandle added. “You go out every night and battle for him. He knows what it takes to get the guys ready and prepared for whatever team you’re playing. He’s a great man to play for and a great man off the ice as well.”

“When he came in here, it was no excuses,” Yandle continued. “He didn’t let the ownership stuff get in the way of things. We just played our game, did our jobs and he was the main reason for that.”

As for the Yotes bench boss himself, he’s pleased with how his squad has responded out of the gates. But as any good leader will do, he’s not allowing anyone to rest on their laurels. There’s a lot of hockey yet to be played and the focus needs to remain on preparing for battles still to come.

“Not bad so far, we’re winning games, but we’re always trying to improve,” Tippett said specifically pointing to the overall play on the defensive side of the ice.

“I still look at it as it’s still early in the season and we’ve found some ways to win some games but I think there’s lots of room to improve from this group,” Tippett went on to say. “We’ve jumped out, we’ve scored some goals, our special teams are in the upper half of the league, but there’s always room for improvement.”

This division is going to be a war all season long, with these five mighty dreadnaughts opening their guns on each other on many occasions. As such there will be many ebbs and flows, successes and setbacks. But Tippett has his crew engaged in the battle so far and has their eyes set upon fighting for ultimate victory in the Pacific.

About The Author

Bill Tiller comes to us from the cyber-sports pages of the AJC.com where he hosted the Iceman Blog for the final four seasons the Thrashers played in Atlanta. He also assumed the thankless position of manning the dark & lonely corner relegated to the Atlanta Thrashers at hockeybuzz.com for the 2009-10 season. Bill takes a very light-hearted, satirical and sometimes irreverent approach to opining about the NHL teams, front offices, players and fans. If you are a self-imposed “Grammer-Nazi” or of the expectation all writers should take a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter approach to their craft, chances are good this isn’t the place for you. While reading his artiles, if you keep the visual of him sitting at his laptop with is tongue planted firmly in his cheek and the understanding that his smartass gland hyper-developed at a very early age, chances are good you will “get it”. Bill is a resident of the metropolitan Atlanta. He attended Smartass University where he was a proud member of the Ata Mu(n) Pi fraternity and graduated with a BS in Underwater Fire Prevention. He later returned to SaU to earn a PhD in BS.

One Response

  1. aznaman

    Nice to see articles written about the Coyotes outside the Phoenix area. Since Tippett got here we have been an elite team in the NHL the only season we struggled with was the labor dispute shortened season. None of the national news outlets say much about them or give respect when it comes to the standings.