As of April 15, the Tucson Roadrunners’ inaugural season has come to a close. It saw the club at the top and at the bottom of the standings. The players struggled, they flourished, and we all made it through some of the toughest adversity ever seen in professional hockey. There was a lot that went on so I’m here to recap some major parts that defined the season and affected the final grade for the team.
Young Guns Galore
The Roadrunners grew some of the best young players I’ve seen. Some of these players didn’t look like much at the beginning, but really started to turn some heads by the end.
The best one was Coyotes rookie sensation Brendan Perlini. After just 17 games, Perlini was launched up to the big leagues and stayed there (save for one game in January where he was sent down and proceeded to score his first professional hat trick). For a kid who struggled while with the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL, he excelled at an alarming pace.
Let’s also not forget the All-Stars, Kyle Wood and Christian Fischer. The two tore up the score sheet for nearly the whole season (with some expected struggles). Fischer also grew to be NHL-ready in no time and will probably never see another AHL game if he has anything to say about it.
Rookies like Ryan MacInnis, that didn’t make as much of a splash at first, grew to be real gems and will be a strong part of the organization in the future. Most of the young guys on the ice this season have good, long NHL careers ahead of them.
#CunnyCan & #CunnyDid
Not many other professional hockey teams can say they have experienced what happened on November 19th, and how can you expect a team to bounce back? Despite over a week of extra rest for the players following that night, Tucson just wasn’t the same. The team did great here and there after the incident, but I think it ultimately caught up to them in the end.
The skid in the back-half of their season had many causes, and I think one was the loss of a brilliant player like Craig Cunningham. They didn’t have him on the ice and they missed his leadership. While Chris Mueller made a fine unofficial captain, it just was not the same as having Cunningham there with the ‘C’ on his chest. And while seeing him with his prosthetic, skating again was heart-warming and tear-jerking, it just was not the right kind of push for the club.
I wish none of this had ever happened, but given that it did, the players dealt with it the best they could. This is a time you have to look past hockey and say there was emotional weight that followed them onto the ice, and you can’t blame the Roadrunners for that. It hurt their season, but I don’t blame them.
At the end of the day, this was the first season for this club in Tucson. While plenty of the players had already known each other and been teammates previously, to make a cross-country trip and rebuild their lives in a new place (they are people too) is difficult for anyone. That alone can really hurt how you perform on the ice.
But despite all that, the Roadrunners performed exceedingly well and impressed the local fanbase. Last year, as the Springfield Falcons, the team had a .395 win percentage, which they improved to a .485 mark this season. The Roadrunners finished 8th in their division last year, and they finished 6th this season. They improved despite moving and changing their identity as a team. It takes some real character to do that.
Everything considered, I give the Roadrunners an overall grade of B. While the end of the season was fairly dreadful, one of its causes was beyond hockey and the players cannot be at fault for that. The team could have called it quits after Cunningham was hospitalized, but they kept fighting. Now, there were times they could have pulled it together and gotten more wins than they actually did during Cunningham’s absence and that miserable stretch in the final months of the season. That is the only reason the team does not get an A as an overall grade. The team did great, not excellent, given their circumstances.
Tucson was riddled with a great mix of veteran leadership and fresh faces, and most players on the team impressed or played right on par with expectations.
The season was a bumpy ride where we saw the lowest lows and some of the highest highs. It was crazy, but it was worth it; I can’t wait to see what next season holds.