The Tucson Roadrunners wrapped up a five-game homestand on Wednesday night, and they did not lose any of those games, moving right back to the top of the Pacific Division standings.
A big reason for that was the newfound offensive production from the lower lines.
“We’ve had some different lines, and we’ve had to adapt on the go,” head coach Mark Lamb said on Wednesday. “You do need that secondary scoring because teams are going to come out and check your top line, but when they do that, (Chris) Mueller’s line is really solid defensively also, but you always need other guys to chip in.”
“When you have team success, everyone’s doing what they have to do,” center Mark Olver continued. “It was pretty obvious tonight that was the case. We’ve managed to put a few games together now and I think we’re just going to keep rolling with that.”
“I think everything’s coming around for what we want as a team,” left wing Hunter Fejes added. “Guys are playing well individually, and that’s leading to team success. We’ve having certain guys on each line; it’s not just guys on our first line that are chipping in. That helps out, and that doesn’t put quite as much pressure on our top guys.”
“When you get contributions from everyone, this is what’s going to happen. We’re a deep team.”
The poster boy for this is Stefan Fournier. The 24-year-old right wing failed to score a point in his first 18 games played, but now has two goals and two assists in his last five games, including one of each on this homestand.
“He’s got some pretty good hands,” Lamb explained of Fournier. “If you look back at his stats and where he’s come from, he’s been an offensive player, so it’s not like he can’t score. It’s just people get all caught up in a tough-guy role and people don’t think they have any hands, but he can really skate and get in there and he can score goals.”
“It’s not really a surprise, because he’s always had that skill,” Christian Fischer said about his teammate. “Obviously today was a really skilled goal. It’s great to see points come up. He might’ve been a little snake-bitten at the beginning, but we’re not surprised. We knew he had that skill.”
“I’m extremely glad to just contribute,” Fournier himself said. “I feel like what I do goes beyond getting goals and assists, but obviously seeing the puck hit the net is a great feeling, and helping the team win is awesome.”
“This game, it’s tough, and going to the net and using your speed and using your best assets, and in my case, that’s taking pucks to the net, and that’s what I try to do, and that’s what I did tonight.”
“I think they’re just more confident with the puck,” defenseman Jarred Tinordi said about the line as a whole. “Before, they weren’t getting the ice so they were a little unsure of what to do, and didn’t want to make a mistake because they wanted to get more ice time. But I think the confidence and that goes hand-in-hand. I think their line is playing with a lot more energy, they’re getting on the forecheck, and once you play hard and physical on the forecheck, you’re going to get the breaks.”
This higher level of play from the lower lines also resulted in the first career goal for Fejes on Wednesday.
“I know they were coming off a little bit of a change there, and I knew Z (Zbynek Michalek) was going to be able to see me, and there was not a defender around me,” Fejes explained afterwards. “So he made a great pass, and luckily I was able to finish.”
“He’s learning as we go,” Lamb said of Fejes. “He’s getting more comfortable and you’re playing good minutes...but Fejes is chipping away at it.”
“I just try to take it day-by-day right now and try to keep my game simple,” Fejes added about his progression. “It’s all about gaining trust and all that kind of stuff coming into the league. Just try to listen to all the older guys, and take in as much as I can, and learn as much as I can since this is my first season.”
Justin Peters started each of the last two games in net for the Roadrunners, stopping 55 of the 58 shots he faced from the Ontario Reign.
“He made some real key saves on a couple of breakaways there and when you make those your confidence has to go high,” Coach Lamb said. “The team’s playing good in front of him, and we’ve got three goaltenders that can play now.”
The Roadrunners have been cycling through three goalies (Peters, Adin Hill, and Marek Langhamer), and Peters has not really had the chance to play consistently.
“It’s fun to play,” he said. “You wanna get in there and help the team. The boys battled hard for me this weekend, and it was fun being behind them.”
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity coach has given me to play two games in a row,” Peters added. “As a goalie, it’s your job to be ready when you get the opportunity. There’s been times where I haven’t been by best, so just kind of moving forward and enjoying the moment right now.”
Wildcat Weekend Rewind
Before these two wins over Ontario, the team hosted Wildcat Weekend, where they sported some interesting looking uniforms.
The U of A club hockey team played the matinee part of the doubleheader in each of those two games, but unfortunately, the Roadrunners weren’t able to catch those games.
“We know a couple of them obviously,” said Fischer about their relationship with the club team. “I’m probably friends with five or six of ‘em, and keep in contact with them as much as we can. We haven’t gone to any games yet. They play too early for us to come. Usually when we’re walking in, they’re walking out, so it’s an odd little time, but it’s a hockey community so we’re all pretty normal guys.”
The team does spend a lot of time in the Tucson community though.
“We’re pretty active in the community here,” Fischer explained. “Whether it be community service or obviously our rink’s down here in downtown and a lot of restaurants we go to are down on this walk. I can’t speak enough good things about this university and it’s pretty cool for us to give them a little tribute this weekend. It’s been a great experience here in Tucson.”
“They’re right here, and it’s nice to have a partnership and support from the community and from the team,” coach Lamb stated. “So it’s nice and maybe they brought us luck too.”
- Tucson (20-9-4) now goes cross-country to Charlotte for two games against the Checkers (16-21-3) before returning back to Arizona. The next home game is Wednesday night against the San Diego Gulls, one of the two makeup games from the postponed series in the wake of the Craig Cunningham situation
- Speaking of Cunningham, he returned to TCC on Saturday for the first time since his heart stopped. You really need to read this by Alex Kinkopf on that night
- Christian Fischer was named the AHL Player of the Week for the previous week’s efforts. He was also added to the Pacific Division’s All-Star roster to replace Brendan Perlini, who is currently up with the Arizona Coyotes
- Chris Mueller is currently T-7th in the AHL in points scored (35) and 2nd in assists (27). Fischer is T-7th in goals (16)
- The Roadrunners are now back in first place in the Pacific Division just ahead of San Jose and Ontario