Itried to be nice.

I tried to be mellow, calm and understanding. I tried to say, “It’s only hockey, and hockey is sports, and sports is brotherhood, and brotherhood means peace and love for everyone, right?”

I tried.

But now I must come clean. I must tell you the reason the Phoenix Coyotes, who play the Red Wings tonight in their deadlocked playoff series, will have to be, and I don’t want to overstate things here, destroyed.

I mean boom-boom. I mean obliterated. Wiped out. Crushed. Mangled. Sent all the way back to Winnipeg, via bus. Their slow destruction began with the Game 4 defeat, and it will continue tonight and until this series is over on Saturday. The reason is simple and, well, horrifying. (Note: Mothers with children, prepare to cover their eyes.)

Something happened out in Phoenix. It happened in the home of the Coyotes, the America West Arena. (Official motto: “Not a mall …yet.”) It was there, in an arena that features an outdoor food court, flavored yogurt and margarita slushes — what, no sushi? — that Coyotes fans were, and I don’t want to overstate things, doomed to eternal damnation.

I am not talking about their obnoxious cheers, their stupid “howl,” or the fact that, in wearing white T-shirts and white pants, they look like the kitchen staff.

I can live with that.

But just as I was starting to accept their hockey-in-the-desert thing and their deeply tanned, disgustingly fit city — which has witnessed fewer NHL playoff games than Hartford — suddenly, the tide turned.

(Mothers, cover the eyes.)

In the second period Sunday, the PA announcer said, “In honor of our guests from Detroit, we’re going to devote the rest of today’s music to the hits of Motown.”

And they played the Four Tops.

Sugar pie, honey bunch,

you know that I love you …”

And the fans …booed.

That does it. Somebody get my sword.

An execution they can’t refuse

You can boo our hockey team. You can boo our coach. You can boo the team bus, the team plane or the team octopus. But when you boo the Four Tops, you’ve gone too far. To paraphrase “The Godfather,” and the words of Vito Corleone:
“This we do not forgive.”

Luca, get the car.

I want the Coyotes crushed. I want them flattened. I want every musically impaired fan in Phoenix to kneel at the shrine of the Pips, Marvelettes, Temptations and Supremes and beg for forgiveness. Weep for mercy. There will be none, of course. Some sins are unforgivable. But they will weep nonetheless.

They will moan as they see Stevie (Wonder) Yzerman, making assist after assist. They will wail as they see Chris (Smokey) Osgood stonewalling their pathetic shots. They will cry as they see Sergei (Marvin) Fedorov, skating circles around them.

They will feel the wrath of Hitsville USA, right smack dab in the kisser.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Gee, what about that
‘intending to injure’ penalty against Brendan Shanahan for his swing at Mike Stapleton at the end of Game 4? Did that have anything to do with this?”

Such a foolish question. Of course it did! I have it on good authority that Stapleton, as he cheap-shotted Shanahan, whispered in his ear, “Martha Reeves sings off-key.”

This was the reason Shanahan attempted to remove Stapleton’s head from his shoulders.

It was also the reason that the NHL’s director of hockey operations, Brian
(Pip) Burke, ruled that Shanahan deserved no further punishment. Although his official comment was “no further punishment,” his unofficial comment, I have on good authority, was this:

“I can’t believe Shanahan let him live. If Stapleton had said that to me, well, I don’t know what might have happened…. “

Booing Motown music? Are they insane?

Scotty needs a ‘Shotgun’

And to think, we were just about ready to accept this Coyotes franchise. We were willing to forgive the cacti they see on the way to practice, or the fact that their security guards wear Bermuda shorts.

Now, they have spit in the face of all we hold dear. They have dissed the Miracles and the Vandellas. They have crossed the line. They will sleep with the fishes.

You want to know what Martin Lapointe said when he suited up, despite a sore leg, Tuesday night? He said, and I have this on good authority, “Tito, this one’s for you.”

You want to know what Kris Draper said when he suited up, despite a sore knee, Tuesday night? He said, and I have this on good authority, “Ain’t no mountain high enough.”

You want to know what Scotty (Junior Walker) Bowman told his troops on the plane home from Phoenix? He said, and I have it on good authority, “If you feel like crushing them, if you got that notion, I second that emotion.”

So the gauntlet has been smashed. And the desert folk must suffer. First they will see their players humbled. Then they will see them defeated.

I’m sorry it has to end this way. But Phoenix, you started it. You made a serious mistake. And tonight, when the game is over, there’ll be a little Motown music on the PA system — a song from Jimmy Ruffin — just for you.

“What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?”

Stick around. You’ll find out soon enough.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581. He will sign copies of “Tuesdays With Morrie” 1-2 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble, Rochester Hills, and 7:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Barnes & Noble, Grosse Pointe Woods.

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