22 games into their existence, and with much of the team leaving town for Christmas for a couple of days, the Tucson Roadrunners are pretty much right where they want to be.
The team picked up four points against division rival Bakersfield on home ice this week, vaulting themselves back up into 2nd place in the Pacific Division with a record of 13-6-3.
“Huge four points before the break,” center Chris Mueller said after Wednesday’s 5-4 OT victory. “We were slipping on the road a little bit but it’s a great team win. Good job by us to get those four points.”
“It’s huge against any team, but against a divisional rival, that just means those points are going to mean more,” Mueller continued. “Playoffs, from what I’ve experienced, come down to just one or two points, and it’s always huge to get points on your division opponents.”
Mueller was the one that scored the OT winner thanks to a breakaway during the 3-on-3 five minute period.
“Just trying to go blocker and it found a way in,” he explained of the shot. “I wasn’t necessarily going exact at that spot, but just trying to get a nice, hard shot and it was more of a reaction.”
Tucson has scored 21 goals in their last five games after recording just four tallies in the previous four games.
“I think our power play’s starting to come back,” right wing Christian Fischer said of the resurgence. “We had a stretch where we were kind of cold there, and I think our scoring came from three or four different lines (Wednesday), so I think everything’s moving the right direction here.”
“We’re starting to get our groove back, and obviously offense comes with that.”
Captain Cunny Forever
On Wednesday, Craig Cunningham spoke publicly for the first time, and while his personality has allowed him to make it this far, he seemed resigned to the fact that he will not play hockey at this level again.
But that doesn’t mean he’s leaving this team.
“He’s still our captain and he’s still our leader,” Mueller told me at the hospital on Wednesday. “He’s more involved than he ever will be, and that’s just the kind of person he is.”
“Cunny’s our captain and will be. He’s going to have a big-time future in hockey, and that’s just credit to his personality and the kind of person he is. By no way, shape, or form has he lost his leadership or anything like that. He’s definitely still our guy.”
Christmas Time is Here
The team’s next game is scheduled for the 26th in San Diego, so the players and coaches are off until Sunday before they have to report back in Tucson to fly out Monday morning.
“I think it gives our guys a chance to breathe and enjoy their families,” head coach Mark Lamb said of the Christmas break. “There’s been a lot of emotional times here in the first part with everything that’s gone on. Just enjoy it because it goes by fast.”
“It’s more of a mental break than anything,” added Mueller. “Just kind of shut it down for three, four days, be with your family, enjoy it, and be smart. Celebrate Christmas a little bit, a lot of guys haven’t seen their family for a while...a lot of first year guys that have been away from their family, so it’ll be good for them to see their family.”
“Come Christmas night, I’ll start reeling it in, but the 26th is always a tough day,” Mueller continued. “It seems like everybody always plays the day after Christmas whether you’re traveling or not. But for now, we’ve kind of earned the right to enjoy Christmas and take a break mentally.”
Mueller will be staying in Tucson since he has one baby and his wife is pregnant with another little Mueller. So her family is flying into town for this break, but other guys are hitting the road.
“I’m personally heading to Chicago, going there to see my family for two days,” Fischer said of his plans. “It’s a quick turnaround, but it’s not too long of a break. It’s not like anyone’s going on vacation or anything.”
“I’m gonna go back to Saskatchewan for a couple days,” coach Lamb explained of what he’s doing. “We’ll deal with the game the morning of the 26th.”