Playing in memory of his fiancee, tragically killed a year ago Friday in a car accident in Jamaica, Pyatt's tale is the most human of the Coyotes' storybook season. On Saturday night, Pyatt had a "Gordie Howe hat trick" -- a goal, an assist and a fight -- in his team's 6-2 win over Colorado on Saturday.
It was Pyatt's 600th game in the National Hockey League.
"I've had a few regular hat tricks," Pyatt said after the game, "but this was my first time for the 'Gordie Howe.' It felt good to do it in my 600th game on a day when we clinched the playoffs. It was a good day."
The Coyotes, a franchise that last summer endured bankruptcy proceedings and the resignation of coach Wayne Gretzky and are owned by the NHL, qualified for the playoffs on Saturday afternoon when the Calgary Flames lost in Boston. On Saturday, trade deadline steal Lee Stempniak scored his 11th and 12th goals in his 12th game since the Coyotes acquired him from Toronto. Wojtek Wolski, another crafty deadline grab by general manager Don Maloney, had three points against his old team.
Still, it was Pyatt's night. The 6-4 wing had an assist on a goal by Derek Morris at 6:45 of the first period to open the scoring. He scored his 10th goal of the season, off a gorgeous backhand pass from behind the goal by Vernon Fiddler, to give Phoenix a 3-1 midway through the game. With a minute left in the second period, Pyatt pounded Colorado's Chris Stewart with a series of rights. The Howe hat trick was complete.
"I thought I'd answer the bell," said Pyatt. "Pretty good fight."
The strong, silent Pyatt has always been a teammate and fan favorite since he was first drafted eighth overall by the New York Islanders in 1999. But the former Islander, Sabre and Canuck was in the hearts of all hockey followers when his fiancee, Carly Bragnolo, was killed a year ago April 2.
According to reports, Bragnolo -- visiting family in Jamaica -- was one of five people in a taxi that overturned when the driver lost control and the car slammed into a utility pole. She was 27.
Pyatt, a member of the Canucks at the time, and Bragnolo were engaged to be married last summer. "Carly was a great person," said Pyatt's Vancouver teammate Ryan Kesler. "She always lit up a room when she walked into it." Said goalie Roberto Luongo: "Taylor loved her so much."
More than any of the Phoenix Coyotes in this uplifting season, worthy of a Hollywood adaptation, Taylor Pyatt is playing for something extra.