The Tucson Roadrunners were the darlings of the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division a year ago, taking the division and Tucson by storm.
The squad, coached by Mike Van Ryn, posted the best win percentage in the 16-team Western Conference (.618), giving them the top-seed in the AHL’s playoffs. They won their opening series against the San Jose Barracuda, three games-to-one, before falling to eventual league runner-up Texas in the second round in five games.
Fast-forward four-and-a-half months, to a sea of red-clad supporters tucked deep inside the Tucson Convention Center, ready to meet this year’s iteration of the team.
The Roadrunners fanatics flocked to the TCC for the team’s season-opening media day and luncheon on Oct. 2, with first-year coach Jay Varady and team president Bob Hoffman addressing the Road Runner’s success last season, and their prognosis for the year ahead.
Varady, who assumed the head coaching role in Tucson after Van Ryn left to become the assistant coach of the NHL’s Saint Louis Blues, expressed confidence in the team’s ability to make another playoff run this season. Varady believes that the team can pick up where they left off last year thanks to the support of the local community in the team’s first two seasons.
“I think it's just a process establishing this market…who knows, maybe in 20 years we could have a local player playing on the Road Runners?” Varady said. “And I think that's about establishing the hockey culture throughout the youth program, the adult leagues and everything else that's going around the rink.”
Hoffman expressed a similar sentiment, describing how important building the game in the heart of the desert is for the franchise to continue. The longtime hockey executive described the team’s variety of philanthropic endeavors during the offseason, such as helping to build a DEK hockey rink at Doolen Middle School.
Hoffman believes the project, in coordination with the Tucson Boys and Girls Club (along with several other ventures) speaks to the organization’s commitment to the region, and to growing the game of hockey organically in Southern Arizona.
“It's just a great thing to be a part of a community as good as Tucson, with most of us coming in from another spot in the United States, Canada or the world,” Hoffman said. “This is now home to us and it's something that's new to us and to see what a great representation that you guys are in welcoming us and helping us along that route to being a part of the community. We're forever grateful for that and, for you, the fans.”