TUCSON -- Hardship. Happiness. History. They're all relevant story lines for the Tucson Roadrunners, the first-year American Hockey League affiliate for the Arizona Coyotes.
The Roadrunners inaugural season came to a close Saturday night as the club capped its first year in Tucson with a thrilling overtime victory against one of the seven Pacific Division counterparts it's come to know so well.
The team, despite missing the playoffs, finished its schedule on a very strong note as it strung together three consecutive wins for the fifth time all year.
With a final record of 29-31-8-0, accumulating 66 points in the standings, the Roadrunners finished in sixth place in the Pacific Division.
After a roaring start that saw the team march on as one of the best in the league through the early stages of the season, the Roadrunners slowly trickled down the rankings as the toll of a trying 68-game season carried on.
On Nov. 19, the players, coaches, and staff were hit with shocking adversity when team captain Craig Cunningham collapsed prior to their game against the Manitoba Moose at Tucson Arena.
Tucson rallied around Cunningham, his family, and the team as he made a miraculous recovery - a process the players held close to their hearts throughout the season.
Sitting firmly in first place on Jan. 18 after a franchise-long five-game win streak, the Roadrunners' season turned for the worse. The team lost 22 of its next 26 games, eventually falling out of playoff contention as it struggled to piece together wins.
The partnership with the Coyotes, however, could not have worked out any better from a logistics standpoint. Numerous call-ups and assignments were made, and many of those on short notice due to the convenience of the clubs' proximity to one another.
"It was good to get it up and going," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said of the relationship between the NHL club and its new AHL team. "Unfortunately, a lot of the players that we thought might be down there ended up playing for us this year, so the second half of the season was tough for them, but they've got things up and running. I give (General Manager) Doug Soetaert and the coaches down there a lot of credit. They did a remarkable job down there. It's a great start."
Twelve players within the organization donned both Coyotes and Roadrunners uniforms this season. Among those were Kevin Connauton, Laurent Dauphin, Anthony DeAngelo, Anthony Duclair, Christian Fischer, Tyler Gaudet, Adin Hill, Marek Langhamer, Jamie McBain, Zbynek Michalek, Brendan Perlini, and Justin Peters.
Four of the aforementioned players made their NHL debuts this season, highlighted by Perlini, who totaled 21 points in 57 games with the Coyotes.
A handful of names helped put the team on the map during its inaugural season by receiving recognition through personal accomplishments. Defenseman Kyle Wood (October) and Perlini (November) each were awarded AHL rookie of the month honors, while Fischer (week ending January 25) was named one of the league's players of the week.
All three players were also named to the AHL's Western Conference All-Star Classic roster, although Perlini did not participate.
Fischer led the team in goals scored with 20, and did so in just 57 games played around a pair of call-ups to the NHL with the Coyotes. His 47 points was eighth best among AHL rookies.
Veteran forward Chris Mueller was a staple for the team's offense throughout the season, finishing the year with 67 points, which was the third most by any player in the AHL this season. It was a career year for Mueller, who shattered his previous single-season career high of 60 points set during the 2011-12 season with the Milwaukee Admirals.
Mueller was one of three players on the roster to appear in all 68 games with the club, along with Ryan MacInnis and Wood, who accumulated 43 points. He finished 11th among defensemen and his 11 power-play goals were the second most of any player in the league.
Hill and Langhamer combined to earn 24 of the team's 29 wins on the season. Hill, a fan favorite between the pipes for the Tucson fan base, finished his rookie season with 16 wins.
On April 7, Craig Cunningham won the AHL's Fred T. Hunt award, which is given to the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship, determination, and dedication to the sport of hockey.
NOTE: Click HERE to see team's final stats