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Lyndsey Fry is pushing to keep Arizona youth hockey moving forward following the Coyotes' departure

Audrey Ju met some of her best friends through hockey, knows someone at every rink she goes to and has become close with numerous families in the tight-knit community.

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

The Phoenix area teenager isn't worried. The NHL may be leaving, but the youth hockey programs across Arizona are on steady ground.

"Most of the programs have a strong foundation,” she said. “If the Coyotes had to leave, obviously I'm 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 bridge the gap on the youth hockey side.

The 2014 Olympian has established the Matt Shott Arizona Hockey Legacy Foundation, designed to support boys and girls hockey programs across the Phoenix area.

The nonprofit honors former Coyotes director of hockey development Matt Shott, who helped forge the foundation for Arizona youth hockey prior to his death in 2021, and will start with grant opportunities and programming. The foundation is expected to start taking donations this month and Fry hopes to eventually create a $10 million endowment that will provide roughly $500,000 a year to support youth hockey programs across the Phoenix area.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now and people are going through a lot of emotions in the hockey community with the departure of the Coyotes going up to Utah,” said Fry, founder and director of the Arizona Kachinas girls hockey programs. “I think that the thing that’s of most concern for a lot of people is, OK, what happens to the growth of hockey here? It’s been exponential since the Coyotes came here in 1996 and we want to make sure that that doesn’t slow down.”

Youth hockey in Arizona has been on the upswing since the Coyotes' arrival, climbing from 4,949 players registered with USA Hockey in 2002-03 to 9,716 last year. The number of ice 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 aims to keep that pipeline open.

When the Coyotes were still in Arizona, the NHL supported youth hockey in the state through the industry growth fund, which provided about $500,000 a year.

The Coyotes franchise can be reactivated — via NHL expansion — by owner Alex Meruelo if a new arena is built within the next five years, but it's unclear if the league will continue the flow of money in the state through the IGF. Meruelo said at the Coyotes' going-away news conference that he intends to continue supporting youth hockey in Arizona until the franchise is reactivated.

Fry's plan is to keep pushing youth hockey forward through the foundation, then use it to add to the IGF should NHL hockey return to the desert.

She's made numerous connections in the hockey community through the years and will lean on them through her new endeavor. The foundation will include former Coyotes Jason Demers, Greg Adams, Darcy Hordichuk and Michael Grabner. Fry also has enlisted the support of Carly Accardo, mother of late Coyotes super fan Leighton Accardo, along with Shott's mother, Shelley, and brother, Trevor.

“I see the foundation as an opportunity for unity to get all the different rinks, all the different programs understanding that while, yes, we compete against each other out on the ice, we all depend on each other,” said Fry, the Coyotes' hockey ambassador and radio analyst when the team was in Arizona. “When it comes to the ecosystem of hockey in the desert, we need to work together to keep it growing. That’s what I hope the foundation can do."