It’s time for some playoff hockey.

The Tucson Roadrunners kick off their first-round playoff matchup against the Calgary Wranglers on Wednesday, opening the best-of-three series at Tucson Convention Center at 7 pm MST.

Each First Round game will be played in Tucson, as the Roadrunners earned home-ice advantage for Games 1, 2, and 3 (if necessary) after finishing with the Pacific Division’s second-highest point total.
Head coach Steve Potvin said the team’s success this season has started between the pipes; Goalie Matthew Villalta led the league with 31 wins while posting a 2.54 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, while backup Dylan Wells was just as instrumental after registering a 10-5-3 record with a 3.28 GAA and .898 SV%.

“If they’re making key saves at critical moments it just allows our players to get into their game and try to get to their identity,” Potvin said. “If you’re playing chase most of the night the opposition gets to play from their net out and it makes it tough and it makes it difficult to penetrate. When you get the saves, you get the first goal, and you’re able to be consistent with your game, it gives you a chance to win.”

The Roadrunners are also welcoming back some key offensive weapons that have spent time at the NHL level, including Dylan Guenther, Josh Doan, Aku Räty, and Michael Kesselring. The four bring a combined 122 games and 51 points from the NHL, while Guenther, Doan, and Villalta were all named to the AHL All-Star team earlier this season.

Rookie Conor Geekie, who notched 99 points in 55 WHL games this season, is also expected to make his professional debut after the Swift Current Broncos were eliminated from the WHL Playoffs last week.

Doan, who led the Roadrunners with 26 goals and 46 points in 62 AHL games this season, was named to the league’s All-Rookie Team.

“That was an incredible honor,” Doan said. “That goes beyond just me with all the help I got there from my linemates, the coaching staff, and the development staff. It’s an honor but heading into the playoffs that stuff doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a different game.

“It will be a ton of fun, and I have a lot of faith in our group down there to make a good push.”

Potvin said the return of those key players has also led to an internal competition in which all of the Roadrunners are continually pushing each other to play better.

“Everybody is going to be able to contribute,” he said. “When you put your ego aside this time of year, you really become unstoppable because if you’re able to give yourself to the team and be selfless, it’s amazing what the rewards are that are coming back.

“There’s never been a man that’s been honored for receiving. A man is always honored for what he gives.”

Tucson’s second-place finish in the Pacific Division this season is its highest since winning the division in 2019-20, but that season was ultimately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also won the division in 2017-18, but was eliminated in the Division Final by the Texas Stars.

The team has never advanced past the Division Final since joining the league in 2016-17.

“It’s special,” Guenther said. “That’s a good team down there. Whenever you have the chance to compete for a championship it’s exciting. We’re going to try to win a championship.”

The road to the Calder Cup begins against the Wranglers on Wednesday, and though Calgary finished in seventh place, it came with an impressive 35-28-6-3 record. The team is anchored by its All-Star goalie, Dustin Wolf, who has earned a laundry list of AHL accolades, including best GAA (2022-23), best SV% (2022-23), most shutouts (2022-23), MVP (2022-23), and has been named as the league’s best goaltender for two consecutive seasons.

Calgary also brings its fair share of players with NHL experience to the AHL playoffs, adding forwards Matthew Coronato and Adam Klapka, as well as defenseman Ilya Solovyov to its roster.

The best-of-three series is bound to be a scrappy battle between two division rivals looking to extend their respective seasons. The Roadrunners earned two wins in four matchups against the Wranglers this season.

“You have to be able to play on the inside and you have to be able to get volume into the net, and that’s our intention,” Potvin said. “We have to be able to use our speed and our size to get to the inside. We can’t be in a hurry to leave. If you’re in a hurry to leave the inside, it’s a difficult series for you.”

The puck drops on Wednesday at 7 pm MST, and fans at TCC are encouraged to wear white in solidarity with the playoff Whiteout. Fans can subscribe to AHLTV to catch all the action, in which the Roadrunners are looking to start a long postseason run.

“To get a chance to go back down there is exciting with everything going on as well, to try to win something for Arizona hockey is something a lot of us are focused on,” Doan said. “It’s one of those things where we have a group that wants to win and wants to be there for a long time.”

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