The Tucson Roadrunners shouldn’t have much trouble scoring goals this season.
That much is for certain after the Roadrunners lost 7-6 to the San Diego Gulls on opening night at the Tucson Arena.
Whether Tucson can keep opponents from ransacking its own net looks to be the bigger question as the Arizona Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate embarks on its second year in the desert.
The Roadrunners jumped out to a promising 2-0 lead thanks to goals by Emerson Etem and Conor Garland. Etem, a right wing with NHL experience, should headline the Roadrunners aggressive offense this season.
The Long Beach, California, native played last year with San Diego but suffered a season-ending knee injury in his first game with the team.
Etem’s former team would bounce back nicely, as the Gulls turned an early deficit into a manageable lead.
With the Roadrunners leading 3-1 midway through the first period, San Diego responded with a pair of goals to tie the score after one period.
The Gulls took the lead 36 seconds into the second period on a score by Andy Welinski.
San Diego didn’t stop there.
The Gulls would score two more goals — for six in a row — to increase their advantage to 6-3 by the 13:42 mark of the second period.
“It’s a brand new system for us,” Roadrunners head coach Mike Van Ryn said. “I liked our pushback. We tried to come back.”
Goalie Hunter Miska allowed all of San Diego’s goals. Tucson stopped the San Diego momentum briefly with a late second period goal by Scott Allen.
However, the Gulls responded mere seconds later when San Diego’s Mitch Hults answered. Down 7-4 and on its heels, Tucson regained its offensive mojo the rest of the night.
It would come up just short.
Veteran skater Mario Kempe knocked in a score in the final moments of the second period to make the score 7-5.
Tucson made it a one-goal game when Jens Looke scored with 13:21 remaining.
The Roadrunners had plenty of opportunities to tie the game in the final moments, but San Diego goalie Kevin Boyle kept Tucson at bay.
“I think we were playing not to get scored on,” Van Ryn said. “We’ve got to learn to keep going, keep being relentless.”
A near-sellout crowd welcomed the Roadrunners on opening night. Before the game, Tucson players were introduced as part of a red-carpet walk.