Roadrunners opener

Conor Garland shooting the puck at last week’s opener against San Diego.

Christopher Boan

Last Saturday was a night of silver linings for first-year Tucson Roadrunners left wing forward Zac Larraza. 

The Scottsdale native, with his parents, grandparents and girlfriend in the stands, dashed his way towards the net, firing a quick wrist-shot past San Diego Gulls goalie Kevin Boyle. 

What happened after is a blur to the University of Denver alum, as Larraza was met by a hoard of teammates in celebration, while thousands of fans bellowed their support from above. 

It was a special moment for Larraza, who was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in 2011, before opting to play collegiate hockey instead. 

“I had quite a few friends and family here,” Larraza said. “It was cool to see everybody, especially to score a goal in front of everybody. It’s an hour or an hour-and-a-half away from home, so it was a special night for me for sure.” 

Larraza’s goal, scored 12 minutes into the game’s opening period, was a prelude to the goal-scoring bonanza that’d take place in Downtown Tucson. 

The tally, which gave the Roadrunners a 3-1 lead, would be met by back-to-back Gulls goals, tying things up at three after 20 minutes of play. 

San Diego’s onslaught continued in the second period, with four goals in a span of 12 minutes, giving the visiting side a 7-5 lead after two periods of play. 

The Roadrunners did their best to match the Gulls, lighting the lamp twice in the period, and were within striking distance heading into the final 20 minutes of play.

The final goal of the night came from Swedish import Jens Looke, who punched one past Boyle with a little over 13 minutes left in the game, to get the Roadrunners within one. 

The newfound rivals traded blows, both literal and metaphorical, in the games waning minutes, with several skirmishes and heart-stopping scoring chances turned aside by the Gulls goalie. 

When the final horn sounded, the Roadrunners were out of time and out of luck, taking a hard-luck 7-6 loss in front of a boisterous home crowd.   

First-year Roadrunners Coach Mike Van Ryn said his team’s effort had lots of highs and lows, but that the future is bright nonetheless.

“I thought the first [period] was good and I was happy with our third,” Van Ryn said. “We’ve just got to learn to trust the system. I felt that in the second [period] we got away from it. The biggest thing for us is just sticking to the system. If we do that, we’ll be fine.” 

Van Ryn was especially encouraged by the crowd’s nightlong support, he said their energy gave his players an extra boost. 

“They did their part, no doubt about it,” Van Ryn said. “I haven’t been in this building too many times when they didn’t, so it’s great. Our guys feed off it, and hopefully we’ll get that all the time.”

Looke is confident the Roadrunners will come back stronger next weekend, when they take the road at 7 p.m. on Saturday against the Bakersfield Condors. 

“We need to be more consistent,” Looke said. “When we play like we can out there, we’re dominating and are the better team out there. But we let them into the game, so more consistency next game is key.” 

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