Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve made it. The AHL All-Star break is here, and that means Roadrunners coach Mike Van Ryn and stars Dylan Strome, Nick Merkley, and Kyle Capobianco are headed to Utica, New York.
So far, the Tucson Roadrunners are 39 games into their 68 game regular season, sitting in first place in the Pacific Division, second in the Western Conference, and sixth in the American Hockey League.
It seems the Roadrunners have a pretty clear path to the Calder Cup Playoffs (the AHL’s version of the Stanley Cup Playoffs). But in hockey —especially the AHL — nothing is certain.
That’s why I’m going to analyze what Tucson needs to do to secure its first ever berth to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Keep Dylan Strome and Nick Merkley in Tucson
It comes as no surprise that Strome and Merkley have proven to be keystone players in Roadrunners’ success this season.
The problem is, they are Arizona Coyotes prospects, so they could technically be called up at any time. Keeping them down in Tucson isn’t up to the Roadrunners. It’s up to Coyotes GM John Chayka and the rest of their front office.
With just 33 points in 50 games, the Coyotes have about a 0.008% chance on making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s no legitimate reason why Chayka should even think about making too many personnel moves between the clubs.
Chayka should (and most likely will) try to keep AHL star duo down in Tucson and ensure that one of their organization’s teams is having success.
Keep its momentum going after the All-Star break
Many first-year Roadrunner fans might remember what happened to the Roadrunners in the second half of the season last year.
Around the All-Star break, the Roadrunners began one of the biggest slumps ever imaginable. They lost 21 of their last 30 games, falling from a .518 points percentage to .412.
It’s safe to say the Roadrunners shouldn’t expect a downfall like last season, but you can never be too cautious. But if they don’t make too many roster moves, they could very well avoid another post-All-Star game catastrophe.
Stay composed in the upcoming road challenges
The Roadrunners have a lot of road games coming up in the next couple months. February features a six-game road trip to California against the Gulls, Reign, and Barracuda as well as a couple games against the Texas Stars.
Tucson is quite familiar with the California teams now, but will be facing Texas for the first this season.
March will be the biggest challenge, however. If you include their Feb. 28 game in Grand Rapids, the Roadrunners will have 10 road games in a 14-game month.
I’m not asking for the Roadrunners to win all these road games — that’s just not likely.
But if the Roadrunners can win a good chunk of these games, or just gain some points on the road while also making sure they’re not over-exerting themselves headed into April, I think they can come out with a solid position in the race for the Calder Cup.
Follow Rob Leano on Twitter @RobLeano1