The American Hockey League has made many momentous changes in recent history.
None more so than the creation of the Pacific Division, which proved itself a success in it’s inaugural season
Heads were turned when the Arizona Coyotes purchased their affiliate in Springfield (Falcons), with the intention of placing them in Tucson, Arizona for 2016-17.
With the NHL team having it’s own well publicised money and attendance issues, there wasn’t much hope or expectation that a team closer to the Mexican border than any American city, could be successful.
The fans chose via a vote to name their team the Tucson Roadrunners and turned up in droves for the inaugural home opener.
Tucson lost their first ever franchise game history 5-3 on the road in San Diego but has bounced back to win the following weekend in Stockton (OT) and Bakersfield, both by a 2-1 score line.
There was a real hope amongst the 6521 paying patrons that the Roadrunners could begin their home campaign in similar victorious fashion but the early signs weren’t promising.
The visiting Stockton Heat raced into a 3-0 lead with just 5:11 on the clock and Tucson were understandably stunned.
They might well have been even more shocked when Jarred Tinordi of all people scored the historic first goal on home ice. By the time eleven minutes had pass, the home team were within a single goal during a crazy opening period.
Stockton would take a 4-2 lead six minutes into the second period but the drama was only just beginning as the middle frame produced six minor penalties, a humdinger of a fight and two further goals for the home team.
A power play marker from Ryan MacInnis was shortly followed by Tyler Gaudet netting a short-handed tally – tying the game at four.
A pair of goals for each team meant the score was dead locked at five a piece heading into the final few minutes. The home fans were rewarded for their unwavering support as Eric Selleck scored with 3:10 to play, a goal which turned out to be the game winner.
The Roadrunners have gone on to remain unbeaten in regulation at home with a 4-0-0-1 record.
The current Western Conference leaders have also yet to lose a game through sixty minutes since that opening day loss.
Home form proved vital in last season’s Western Conference as the teams that qualified for the post-season, had home records upwards of .570%
After two games on the road in Bakersfield, Tucson return for six straight at home and the result of that home-stand will go a long way to determining the outcome of their inaugural season on the ice.
Young talent has come to the fore thus far for Arizona’s affiliate, though not all of it originally drafted by the organisation.
Defenseman Kyle Wood was originally drafted by Colorado, and the rookie leads the team with nine points in eight game.
Arizona’s first round selection in 2014 is also helping to light the lamp. British born Brendan Perlini holds the joint leads in goals with four and seven points overall.
Michael Bunting was selected 117th overall in the same draft as Perlini and shares the goal lead.
Anthony DeAngelo is another defenseman racking up points. A former first round pick by Tampa Bay in 2017, DeAngelo has a goal and six assists to his name.
Ably assisting the young guns are two veterans.
Craig Cunningham was formerly the Captain of the Springfield Falcons but the 26 year old has not taken the loss of the ‘C’ too badly, producing at point per game pace.
Chris Mueller is a centreman that has been around the block once or twice. With over 500 AHL games to his name, his experience of the league is doubtless invaluable to the organisation and he’s still more than capable of putting up points at this level.
Tucson’s games have been entertaining with 53 goals, an average over 6.6 per game, though how long the Roadrunners can keep relying on such strong offense is up for debate this early in the season.
Away from the action on the ice, attendances have been encouraging and winning has doubtless helped that along.
The huge opening night attendance has helped bolster the early average to 3770, though even without that, an average over 3000 have been coming through the doors.
There’s a long way to go but it’s encouraging start for Tucson, for what is one of the toughest sells in the American Hockey League.