Tucson Roadrunners coach Mike Van Ryn likens game preparation to studying for a big exam. If the team is on top of its assignments heading into a weekend series, Van Ryn feels pretty confident they’ll return good results on the ice.
For a roster full of college-aged players, it’s an apt comparison.
The Roadrunners aced their midweek practice Wednesday, one day before heading off to San Diego for a two-game series against the rival Gulls that begins Friday night.
“We had one of our better practices of the year,” Van Ryn said. “The two before that were just OK. We had a little chat about how practice was going, and (Wednesday) they were real good.”
Van Ryn saw what a string of good practices could do last week, when the Roadrunners played arguably their most consistent back-to-back games of the season, sweeping Bakersfield at home.
Tucson dominated the puck in both wins, most so in the second and third periods where the team outshot Bakersfield by a combined 61-21 margin over the two nights.
“That’s the idea,” Van Ryn said. “That was by far our best week of practice we had all year. Our guys were really humming and they were battling, playing with pace. That set them up for the weekend.”
The Roadrunners would like to keep the momentum going at San Diego.
The Gulls have regularly been a thorn in Tucson’s side, but they’ve been struggling lately. San Diego has lost four of its last five games.
“I think we’re getting them kind of in a bad spot,” Van Ryn said. “I know that their head coach will be pushing them to play us hard and to play us the way that they’re capable of.”
For Tucson, the series presents an opportunity to gain some distance from teams like San Diego in the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division standings. The Roadrunners are 8-1-2-0, and their 81.8 winning percentage is highest in the league.
San Antonio leads the Pacific Division in points, however, but its because the Rampage has played four more games than Tucson.
If the Roadrunners can earn points in one or both of the games this weekend, they’ll be in an even more favorable position when they return to Tucson for a five-game homestand that begins next week.
Tucson has not had many issues with attrition, and Van Ryn feels the team has adapted to the schedule at the highest level of minor-league hockey.
The demand of daily practice is where Van Ryn sees the greatest development from some of the team’s younger players.
“It’s harder for them because they’re playing physically stronger guys every day,” Van Ryn said. “They’re not getting goals against 16-year olds anymore. But so far so good. They’re learning and they’re doing a good job for us.”