The Tucson Roadrunners are rolling out the red carpet to kick off the 2017-18 season.
Yes, a real red carpet.
The American Hockey League affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes wants to begin Year 2 in style.
On Tuesday, the Roadrunners held a “Drop the Puck” luncheon at Tucson Arena, where season-ticket holders and corporate partners nibbled on steak and crème-brulle as they chatted with members of the team.
The Roadrunners open their regular season Saturday with a 7:05 p.m. home game against the San Diego Gulls.
“We’re excited to get back out onto the ice and show the fans what we can bring to the city of Tucson,” team Bob Hoffman said. “Some excitement, some thrills, and hopefully we’ll have a championship one day.”
The Roadrunners plan to make Saturday hockey day in Tucson, with pre-game festivities and a tailgate featuring the local band Sqwrl. The team will arrive about three hours before the game in classic cars, and then make a walk down the red carpet into the arena.
Fans who followed the Roadrunners last season can expect to see a few familiar faces mixed in with some new talent.
The new faces begin with Mike Van Ryn, who takes over as head coach after spending last season as the Coyotes’ developmental coach. The 38-year-old said Tuesday that Tucson “rocks.”
“I hate to sound like a broken record,” he said, “but we talk about how great the crowd is and how electric that building was.”
The 38-year-old Van Ryn inherits a young roster that is expected to feed into the Coyotes pretty quickly.
Last season, the Roadrunners sent a dozen players to the NHL, among the highest number of any team in their league.
Kyle Wood headlines the Roadrunners’ roster. He starred with the team last season before seeing a bit of playing time with the Coyotes towards the end of the year.
For Wood, the return to Tucson is bittersweet.
“It was obviously a little disappointing getting cut by the Coyotes, but it’s awesome coming back here,” Wood said. “I played here last year and the fans are great.”
Wood, who expects to play a top role for the Roadrunners again this year, said that he needs to improve both on his decisions with the puck and his skating.
Wood isn’t the only Roadrunner with previous NHL experience.
Andrew Campbell, a hockey journeyman who has seen limited NHL action with the Kings, Maple Leafs and Coyotes, will open the season in Tucson.
The 29-year-old defenseman will serve as a veteran on a roster mostly made of players in their early-20s.
“From everything I’ve heard, (Tucson) is a fantastic place to play,” Campbell said. “My family and I were looking for a chance, and this is such an enticing place between the weather, the fan support and the way the team is trending up and up every year.”
“It was too good for me to pass up.”