It was déjà vu for Brendan Perlini as he feverishly raced down the ice at Tucson Arena last Monday night.
Perlini, who scored 14 goals in 17 games with the Tucson Roadrunners a year ago, felt right at home in his old arena, punching a shot past Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller for the game’s opening tally.
The 21-year-old forward cracked an ear-to-ear postgame smile when asked about the shot, lovingly recalling his brief AHL days in Tucson.
“I’ve hit shots like that a couple of times in the past, so I was just trying to use the defense as a screen and get a good shot on them,” the Guildford, England native said. “And luckily, I got it by him and it went in.”
Unfortunately for the Coyotes, the rest of the game didn’t go as smoothly: the Ducks scoring four unanswered goals in the third period to win 6-4.
First-year Coyotes Coach Rick Tocchet expressed obvious frustration at his team’s inability to close out the game, which was played in front of an announced crowd of more than 5,000 spectators.
“We’d do some good things, then all of a sudden we’d lose focus,” Tocchet said. “Guys would take long shifts, guys weren’t making good passes — it’s almost like guys were freezing under pressure.”
The two players that didn’t freeze were Perlini and fellow Roadrunners alum Kyle Wood, who also found the back of the net.
Tocchet praised the effort put in by the duo, but cautioned that others need to step their game up before the season starts on Oct. 7, against the newfound Las Vegas Golden Knights.
“I know that we have a lot of guys in our lineup and stuff like that, so we’ll have to sort that out,” Tocchet said. “But there’s a lot of things that we have to work on, and guys have to take ownership of it. There’s no entitlement here, and we’ll get it all broken down, because things are going good for some people. But others, they think that they have a spot or something.”
Monday’s game attracted a crowd nearing 5,000 spectators, a fact that didn’t surprise Perlini.
He spoke of the commitment to the sport in Southern Arizona, and how quickly the game is spreading throughout the region.
“It was pretty similar to what we had in Tucson last year,” Perlini said. “And obviously a lot of fans came out to support us again tonight. I think it’s good, and I think it’s always great to grow hockey into a new area, and hockey’s getting bigger and bigger here.”
Teammate Dylan Strome, who was one of four Coyotes that scored, touched on similar narrative about the crowd’s energy on Monday.
“I thought it was a great environment,” Strome said. “It was loud, and it was good to see so many people. It was fun to play in.”
Tucson’s next brush with professional hockey is at 7:05 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 7, when the prodigal Tucson Roadrunners will kick off its second AHL season against the San Diego Gulls.