Sarah McLellan – azcentral sports
Coyotes winger Anthony Duclair sorts through the mail that arrives in his locker stall usually once a month, and the contents of the envelopes are typically the same.
Fans wish him good luck, ask for hockey advice or request an autograph on the card they’ve included in the letter.
But Duclair’s most memorable message was a marriage proposal hand-delivered last month by a young girl, who stopped him before he left the Ice Den in Scottsdale following a skate.
“That was a special one,” Duclair said. “I was not expecting that.”
The Coyotes’ season wraps after just two more home games, Thursday against the Canucks and then a Saturday visit from the Wild, but before players scatter for the summer, many will read the fan mail they’ve accumulated at Gila River Arena.
And taking the time to respond seems to be a priority for players such as Duclair because the interaction with fans is an upside to the game that doesn’t disappear when losses pile up like they have the past six months for the Coyotes.
“They’re a big part of the game,” Duclair said. “Obviously, their love and support is greatly appreciated by players. Going through good times, bad times, they’re always there sticking up for you. It’s always good to give back, and I remember when I was a kid, I was a big fan of the game, too, and I just appreciate that, for sure.”
Duclair tries to read every letter sent to him and respond the best he can, which has included saying “yes” when he was recently popped the marriage question.
“I’m not going to say, ‘No,’ to that, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh.
Young hockey players have reached out to Duclair, asking him to describe his game-day routine, share what his rituals are and explain how he got to where he is today. Although he never wrote letters to players as a kid, Duclair hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be in that position admiring those in the NHL.
“I remember when I was a kid,” he said. “It was not too long ago. It’s only my second year in this league. I want to make sure that all the fans are appreciated, and I remember I was a fan not that long ago and still am. They’re a big part of this game.”
Coach Dave Tippett still gets Hartford Whalers cards from his playing days to sign, and goalie Mike Smith also typically gets cards seeking autographs. The accompanying notes tend to be friendly.
“If they want your autograph, they’re probably usually going to be nice to you, right?” Smith said. “I don’t think I’m going to be signing any that are ripping me.”
So he hasn’t been mailed any suggestions like …
“Keep your stick on the ice? I haven’t got that one yet,” Smith said.
One of the more unusual requests captain Shane Doan received was if he could get Grant Fuhr and Wayne Gretzky’s autographs for the sender. As for the letters that are special to him, those would be the ones postmarked from near his hometown in Alberta, Canada.
“You’re appreciative of it,” he said. “You’re appreciative of the fact that people take the time to do it.”
Sealing an envelope and attaching a stamp, however, isn’t the only way to communicate with the Coyotes nowadays.
Some players are active on social media and connect with fans that way.
“Everyone can just send you a DM on Instagram or a message on Twitter or just tweet at you,” winger Max Domi said.
Domi enjoys reading through all the tweets in his mentions. He still does receive snail mail with the majority of it getting sent to Toronto where he grew up.
Most letters are from children encouraging him, and the words and pictures inspire him as he’s reminded of the support he has from fans.
“It’s just pretty rewarding,” Domi said. “It’s pretty cool how many people are actually cheering you on that you don’t even know. They send you pictures of their kids wearing your jersey at home watching the game, cheering you on and stuff. It could be from Edmonton, Alberta, watching the Coyotes versus Tampa Bay Lightning. It has nothing to do with Edmonton, but they’re cheering you on. It’s pretty cool, so little things like that are definitely a big part of playing in the NHL. But for me personally, it’s kind of something that helps drive you.”