EDITOR'S NOTE: The report that follows was filed before Tucson played its 11th game of the season on Saturday night, a 4-1 win over Bakersfield.
ROADRUNNERS REPORT: Games 1-10
Overall record: 7-1-2-0
Standings: First place, Pacific Division
TUCSON -- It'd be difficult to forecast an outset more impressive than the one currently constructed.
Things are well in Tucson; in fact, things are about as good as they can get. However, and by air of caution, a brilliant jump out of the gate doesn't necessarily translate into a successful campaign, as seen by the club's inaugural run in 2016-17.
This start, though, feels different.
The Roadrunners are a very, very attractive 7-1-2-0 through their first 10 games of the season, situated atop the Pacific Division, Western Conference, and entire American Hockey League. They are without a regulation loss since Oct. 7, their season opener, and have since earned points in nine consecutive contests.
Head Coach Mike Van Ryn, along with assistant coaches John Slaney and Steve Potvin, have revitalized the atmosphere and brought an invigorated feel to the team on a day-in, day-out basis.
There's excitement, there's accountability, there's focus.
The credit for the roster's start, though, has been directed toward the group.
"You've got to give the credit to the players," Van Ryn stressed. "I think they've created quite a good room in there. They want to play for each other; they want to do what's right. Everybody cheers each other on, and they want to see each other do well. When you get that, guys aren't worried about the individual stuff and they're pulling for each other. It's honest, and that's when good things usually happen."
Generating buzz are an abundance of names that signify promising futures, players that, in time, will eventually graduate or return to the NHL level, which only makes their time in Tucson that much more special.
Dylan Strome is embracing the opportunity he's been given in the AHL, and that's not an easy thing to do. Since his assignment to the Roadrunners on Oct. 9, the 20-year-old has been a steady force on the team's first line.
Through his first nine games with the club, Strome has registered 14 points (3G, 11A), which is the most among rookies in the entire league.
There has been recognition, and it has certainly been due. Strome was honored with the AHL's CCM Player of the Week award for the period ending on Oct. 29, following a span of three games in which he recorded seven points (1G, 6A), including his first professional goal.
On Friday night, Strome set a new personal best for points in a single game with four (2G, 2A) in the Roadrunners' 6-3 victory over the Bakersfield Condors.
MERKLEY ON A MISSION
Nick Merkley's seven goals are the most by any Roadrunners player this season, and his 11 points are fourth best among rookies in the league.
"He's learning how to play like a pro," Van Ryn said of Merkley after he scored the overtime game-winner on Nov. 4. "He's been very consistent for us lately. He's learning how to get on pucks, how to hound pucks. Merks is working every day in practice, and he's a guy that really wants to get up to that big club, and he's trying to do everything he can to get there."
The 20-year-old has been held off the score sheet on just three occasions this season, and has compiled four multi-point games.
Of benefit to the Roadrunners this season has been a very healthy, deep conglomerate of goaltending to keep in steady rotation. The team has had the pleasure of calling upon Adin Hill, Hunter Miska, and Marek Langhamer through its first 10 games.
"They've been good," Van Ryn said. "They're young guys that still need to grow, still need to play. Is there talent there? For sure there is. But we've got to keep pushing them too, and it's got to be every day, and we'll keep doing that and they'll keep getting better. Our guys want to play for them, and that's the biggest thing."
Hill has allowed just six goals in four appearances, three of which have been starts, and earned his second career shutout on Oct. 14 against the Bakersfield Condors. With a record of 2-1-1, he's posted an astounding .930 SV% and a 1.66 GAA.
Miska, less than a year removed from his season of collegiate hockey, holds a perfect 4-0-0 record through five starts, and in his last four calls, has been mightily impressive with a .920 SV% and a 2.50 GAA.
Langhamer, dependable as always, has allowed only two goals in regulation in his two starts with the club this season, putting up an 1-0-1 record with a .949 SV% and a 1.45 GAA.
The team as a whole has surrendered only a combined 25 goals through its first 10 games this season.
Twenty-three different names have hit the score sheet for the Roadrunners this season. The team is thriving on widespread scoring, rather than the top-heavy production they hinged on early last season.
"We've had production from a lot of different guys," Van Ryn said of the team's biggest strength thus far. "Obviously (Strome) and others are producing at a pretty good clip, but our third line is contributing, our fourth line is contributing. Throughout the lineup guys are stepping up and playing to win the game. I think our depth has probably been our biggest stabilizer."
The team's first 12 goals scored this season came off the sticks of separate players. Mike Sislo was the first to record multiple goals when he scored his second of the season on Oct. 21.
17 players have three points or more, 10 with four or more, and six with five or more.
Of the team's 37 goals scored, 24 have come in even-strength situations, 10 on the power play, and three shorthanded.
MOVING ON UP
Ironically, NHL recalls for AHL teams can reap the most reward. It's the dream, it's the growth, it's the pride taken in being part of the process.
This season, five players from the Roadrunners have dressed for the Coyotes, though three have only seen live action. Hill, forward Mario Kempeand defenseman Dakota Mermis have each made the jump, while Langhamer and Miska got to serve the all-important role of being backups.
Of the Roadrunners' next 10 games, all of them will come against Pacific Division opponents. The team will play six of those on home ice at Tucson Arena where they're 4-1-1-0 this season, the other four on the road, where they'll look to improve upon their superb 3-0-1-0 mark in opposing buildings.