Roadrunners Report: Games 41-50by Alexander Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Tucson Roadrunners
ROADRUNNERS REPORT: Games 41-50
Overall record: 25-19-4-2
Standings: Fourth place, Pacific Division
TUCSON -- As playoff season nears and the points come at a premium, the Roadrunners have been playing close, competitive hockey.
The team's results over its latest stretch of 10 games haven't been particularly attractive. Of its six losses suffered during February, five of those were one-goal games with under a minute to play in regulation. In three of those games, opposition's empty-netters padded the scoreboard.
Tucson's 2-6-1-1 record over its past 10 contests hasn't had detrimental effects on its playoff positioning, thanks to the club's vivacious start to the season.
But it has made things close.
The Roadrunners have possessed the fourth and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division for the majority of February, looking up at the grouping's top three teams, the San Diego Gulls, San Jose Barracuda, and Bakersfield Condors.
They are just two points ahead of the fifth-place Colorado Eagles, who are knocking at the door and looking to leap, and seven points ahead of the sixth-place Stockton Heat, who aren't waving any white flags.
Since being reassigned to the Roadrunners on Jan. 14 after making 11 NHL starts with the Coyotes, Adin Hill has been nothing short of magnificent while upholding an offense that has struggled to maintain its groove.
Hill has gotten the nod in 12 of the Roadrunners' 16 games played since his assignment, flaunting a .935 save percentage and a 1.91 goals-against average in those starts, including two shutouts.
Those eye-popping numbers, oddly enough, have translated into a 4-7-1 record for the 22-year-old goaltender over that span.
"He's eating losses," Roadrunners captain Dakota Mermis said following Tucson's latest contest, a 3-1 loss to the Bakersfield Condors. "He's been giving us every opportunity. It's a bummer, it feels like we're letting him down a little bit."
Over the course of the team's last 10 games, a stretch that saw Hill make eight starts, he posted a .926 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average, holding opponents to two goals or less five times.
The Roadrunners' offense was held two goals or fewer in six of Hill's eight starts over that last span of 10 games.
Hill ranks eighth overall among qualified goaltenders in the AHL with a 2.47 goals-against average and 10th overall with a .914 save percentage in 1,115:18 minutes of play.
CHRISTIAN FOR CONDITIONING
The American Hockey League is not only a breeding ground for prospect development, but a destination for established NHL players who are in their final stages of rehabilitation from injuries that have kept them sidelined for lengthy periods of time.
Defenseman Kevin Connauton was the first Coyotes player to don a Tucson uniform for the purposes of sharpening up to prepare for an imminent return to the NHL, playing in a pair of games for the Roadrunners in December of 2016.
Forward Christian Dvorak became the most recent on Feb. 17, when the NHL club designated the 23-year-old for assignment to gain his final edges before making a much anticipated return to the top roster.
Dvorak was the 25th player in the organization to wear both a Coyotes and Roadrunners uniform in live game play when he took the ice for the first of his two conditioning games on Feb. 20 against the San Diego Gulls.
In two games, Dvorak registered six shots on goal, centering the team's top line in both contests.
"He was outstanding," Roadrunners Head Coach Jay Varady said of Dvorak following his second and final game with Tucson. "I thought his game elevated shift after shift. You saw another step, and then another step. He's been great around our guys, good to have around."
The Roadrunners bid farewell to a pair of names on Feb. 8, but welcomed two in return. The organization received forward Emil Pettersson from the Nashville Predators in exchange for forwards Laurent Dauphin and Adam Helewka, and in an AHL deal made shortly thereafter, forward Jeremy Gregoire was acquired for future considerations.
Pettersson, a 2018 AHL All-Star, was assigned to the Roadrunners following the deal and made his team debut that evening in Rockford, Illinois. He was spectacular in his second game with the club the next night, registering the first three-assist game of his professional career in Tucson's 5-3 win over the IceHogs.
In need of a big-bodied, physical power forward with scoring touch, the Roadrunners received just that in Gregoire, who finished the club's season-long road trip as the team's leading goal scorer, netting three in his first six games of action in a Tucson uniform.
Another player is expected to make his Roadrunners debut this coming weekend in Colorado. Forward Michael Chaput, whom the Coyotes acquired on trade deadline day from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Jordan Weal, brings a wealth of experience to an otherwise young up-and-coming Tucson roster.
Chaput has 325 AHL games on his professional resume, including 24 this season with the Laval Rocket, Montreal's farm team, where he registered 16 points (10G, 6A). The 26-year-old centerman won a Calder Cup championship with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016.
The High School Roadrunners played in the Arizona High School Hockey Association D3 State Championship game on Feb. 10, finishing as runner-up after falling to Desert Vista High School at the Ice Den Scottsdale.
The group of 16 players, who hailed from seven different institutions, were true pioneers for Tucson's youth hockey program as they were the first to represent the city in a championship setting.
The Junior Roadrunners program as a whole has taken on tremendous growth since the Coyotes relocated their AHL team to Tucson. Registration numbers have tripled, highlighted by huge increases in the 8U and girls programs. In three years, the program has grown to skate 15 teams, enormous expansion from the two they had in 2015.
Of Tucson's next 10 games, eight will come against Pacific Division opponents; each of those intra-grouping match-ups having major playoff implications in what is a tight postseason race. The team will play four of its next 10 on the road, with six on home ice at Tucson Arena, including two against the Iowa Wild on March 19 and 20 as Minnesota's affiliate makes its only trip to Southern Arizona this regular season.