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A whirlwind of Sedona red and black swept across the freshly painted ice at the Tucson Arena on a recent Tuesday afternoon. 

The dozen or more players that created said scene make up the backbone of the Tucson Roadrunners hockey team, which enters its fourth season in the Old Pueblo. 

The Roadrunners, who missed the league’s playoffs after going 34-26-8 under in coach Jay Varady’s first season in Tucson, are ready to get back on-track this year. 

Varady, who is the franchise’s third coach in four seasons, said the team’s players are ready to take their next step as a collective, contending for an AHL Paciifc Division crown. 

“You get to work right away, establish our identity as a group focused on our process and become a better team every day,” Varady said. “…It's day one, so I think today we are just getting organized. Getting a lot of bodies into town here, and I thought as a group, we'd put in a good day's work.”

Varady knows how close the team came to clinching a postseason berth a year ago, missing the playoffs by a single point, after falling in the team’s season finale against the San Diego Gulls. 

He’s excited to see what a veteran-heavy Roadrunners team can do this season, contending with league heavyweights, like the Gulls and last year’s divisional champs, the Bakersfield Condors. 

“It's exciting to get started, for me. I think these are older talented players, but again, we have to a culture in a way we do business around here and for us,” Varady said. “It's everybody understanding how we're going to do that and growing together.”

Varady’s excitement was echoed by players of all ages, with offseason acquisition Aaron Ness and team stalwart Lane Pederson both speaking highly of the team’s potential on Tuesday. 

“It's nice to be back and see a lot of familiar faces, with the coaching staff, all the boys and everything,” Pederson said. “So, it's nice to be back and I think we're a good team and the boys had a lot of good jump out there today so I'm excited to get going.”

Ness comes to the Roadrunners after spending five years with the Hershey Bears, who are the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. 

The 29-year-old defenseman said he’s thrilled to be playing in the Arizona Coyotes organization and in Tucson in particular. 

Ness said he’s grown to enjoy working with Varady and company so far, with a seemingly endless amount of potential in the season ahead. 

The AHL veteran is excited to see how the Roadrunners fare in their season opener, against the Texas Stars on Friday, Oct. 4. 

“It's been awesome so far. We've got a great group of guys here and great staff top to bottom and excited and the weather doesn't hurt either,” Ness said. “So, it's been a lot of fun. It's been a good adjustment so far.”

Ness said everyone on the Roadrunners’ roster is ready to get the season started and to play in front of the home fans for the first time, when the team hosts the San Antonio Rampage at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18. 

“I think we're ready. I think that's what summer is all about. You train, you work hard every day and when you come to training camp you treasure all you can do and now it's more of the same,” Ness said. “Everyone here wants to play in the NHL. It's the ultimate goal. So now everybody has to continue to prove that and you know the best way to do that, it'd be on a winning team. So that's the goal.”

Varady echoed his players’ sentiments, saying last year’s bitter ending gave coaches and players a shot of energy over the offseason. 

The second-year coach is ready to show their progress as a whole in their early contests, giving the fans that flock to Tucson Arena something to cheer about. 

“It's exciting to get started, for me. I think these are older talented players, but again, we have to a culture in a way we do business around here and for us,” Varady said. “It's everybody understanding how we're going to do that and growing together.”

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