The Tucson Roadrunners have been here before.
Last year’s team began its season 8-1-2-0 before losing five of six games, fading and then crumbling late in the season.
This year’s team has a matching record through 11 games.
That may be where the comparisons end.
This year’s team has a new coach, Mike Van Ryn, and a stable of young players who could be the core of the parent club’s rebuild.
Despite the occasional player recall to the NHL’s Coyotes, Tucson has for the most part found a stable rotation who are coming together on and off the ice.
After Tucson’s sweep over Bakersfield this past weekend, coaches and players alike praised the locker room. The Roadrunners are playing and coexisting well, which isn’t easy to at the minor league level of any professional sport.
Most of the time, athletes are eager to one-up one another in order to earn a promotion to the big leagues.
It helps that Tucson is led by a trio of young stars who seem to have bought into the process from the start.
Dylan Strome and Nick Merkley are carving up the American Hockey League.
Strome leads all AHL rookies with 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) while Merkley is right behind him at 13 points (eight goals, five assists).
On Monday, Strome posted a picture on Instagram of him fist-bumping Merkley with the caption, “Brother.” The post already has nearly 9,000 likes.
Tucson’s first line also features Lawson Crouse, who played most of last season with the Arizona Coyotes.
Crouse’s NHL experience has shown through in Tucson, where he has already recorded two goals and three assists in six games.
Then there’s Tucson’s staunch goalkeeping play.
The Roadrunners have a strong pairing between Adin Hill and Hunter Miska. Hill has the higher save percentage, but Miska has the better record.
The Coyotes’ Tuesday trade of goalie Louis Domingue to Tampa Bay for Michael Leighton means Hill and Miska are likely staying with Tucson for now.
That means the Roadrunners can count on the two goalies for the foreseeable future.
Tucson will look to expand its AHL-best record when it plays at San Diego on Friday night.